Experiential eating drives new snacking innovations like 'swicy' s’mores and the vegan 'brookie'

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Most consumers consider snacks to be a ‘low risk’ opportunity for food exploration. Pic: GettyImages/AndreyPopov
Most consumers consider snacks to be a ‘low risk’ opportunity for food exploration. Pic: GettyImages/AndreyPopov

Related tags Adm milling plant-based Colours Flavours textures Sweeteners

Food provides a gateway to new experiences, including flavours, textures and colours that excite the senses and evoke emotional responses. As more consumers turn to food as a source of comfort and enjoyment, nostalgic and indulgent options are in high demand, but the majority – 74%m – are keen to be adventurous and try new flavours from around the world.

Consumers often perceive snacks as ‘low risk’ opportunities for food exploration, as between-meal bites tend to be smaller quantities and lower price points than full meals. This means snack developers have the freedom to experiment with unique taste profiles, unexpected colours and unusual textures.

So, how can bakery and snack brands entice shoppers with multisensory engagement in the coming months?

Consider focusing on plant-forward snacks and treats with minimal sugar and pleasing texture and taste, says ADM.

Packed with plant proteins

Today’s consumers are open to exploring both animal-based and plant-based proteins in snack foods. This flexitarian approach is believed to support a more resilient food system, as well as the joy of discovery. Plus, protein may help curb hunger and can support the body’s energy levels.

Plant proteins have become commonplace in chips and crackers, nutrition bars, muffins and more. In 2023, this rising tide will elevate alternative meat snacks as substitutes for cured, smoked and cold cooked options. Charcuterie boards of the future may also prominently feature plant-based cheeses alongside fruits, vegetables, olives, breads and spreads.

Crunchy snack clusters are a fun format for plant-forward ingredients, including ancient grains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and dried fruit. These bites can be sweet or savoury, delivering an array of nutrients from fibre to protein and a delightful blend of textures. Snack clusters are also a great way to introduce consumers to lesser-known sources of plant protein, such as sorghum, amaranth and hemp, or even novel protein sources like insects or seaweed.

Sugar swaps

As much as snacking tends to spotlight sweeter flavours – especially chocolate, vanilla and strawberry – there’s a definite shift away from added sugars in many aspects of consumers’ eating occasions.

2020 and 2021 data from ADM’s proprietary consumer insights platform, Outside Voice, found eight in 10 consumers – from both the EU and the US – are intentionally avoiding or reducing sugar in their diets. Additionally, 83% of Europeans and 70% of Americans believe it’s important to reduce sugar in bars and snacks. Likewise, reducing sugar in baked goods is important to 70% of US consumers and 79% of EU consumers.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for reducing sugar in baked goods and snacks.

A vegan brownie cookie or ‘brookie’ can be a decadent treat with better-for-you appeal thanks to stevia, allulose and other low- or no-calorie sweeteners.

Fudgy-Chocolate-Cookies-IMAGE-210

Allulose, for example, occurs naturally in wheat and dried fruits and has 70% the sweetness of sugar without sugar alcohols, which is a win for product labelling. It also supports functionality in baking, as it provides vital browning and humectancy.

Low- and no-calorie sweeteners are a great option for all types of bars, cookies, and crackers.

Breads, cakes and pastries are additional opportunities for sugar reduction.

ADM’s Outside Voice revealed Americans are more driven to value sugar reduction in indulgent choices, versus 47% of Europeans. Stevia and reduced-sugar glucose syrups are great choices for baked goods, particularly for those who are calorie counters. For example, a low-sugar frosted cupcake with flavours and colours from natural sources and other botanical ingredients, has a lot to offer label-conscious consumers.

Fascinating flavours and textures

Product developers that emphasise the experience of snacking occasions are enticing those shoppers who are perusing the snack and bakery aisles.

Flavour is a significant attribute, and trends include tastes from around the world, nostalgic and comforting flavours, as well as flavours that can signal wellness attributes.

Citrus flavours, for example, are prized for their fresh and juicy notes, but can also attract can attract consumers to products formulated with vitamin C for immune support. Think cranberry orange granola bars, lemon blueberry muffins and pineapple yuzu upside-down cake.

Fusion flavours are especially popular, with hot honey leaning into the sweet-and-spicy or ‘swicy’ trend for everything from crunch mix to cornbread. Caramelised onion rings, white cheddar and jalapeño puffed pea snacks or sweet-and-salty s’mores popcorn are additional favourites.

Smores LauriPatterson
Pic: GettyImages

As for textures, baked goods and snacks may be crispy, crunchy, creamy, chewy and cakey.

The snacks of tomorrow

Snacks and bakery are especially suited categories for adventurous, experiential eating that can help people curb hunger and sustain energy levels. They also answer the consumer demand for foods and flavours that align with contemporary values around holistic wellbeing and earth-friendly production.

Today, there are ample opportunities to innovate with offerings that nourish the body and mind while also supporting people and the planet. And whether it’s greater access to alternative proteins or expanding sweetening solutions, advances in the industry can promote spontaneous snacking that consumers will feel good about.

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