The art of snacking smarter: What are the implications for producers?

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers are demanding so much more of their snacks today. Pic: GettyImages/CentralTAlliance
Consumers are demanding so much more of their snacks today. Pic: GettyImages/CentralTAlliance

Related tags functional snacking fortified foods better for you food as medicine Protein omega 3 fatty acids Probiotics Fiber vegan Sports nutrition

As the older demographic increases and live longer, their need for functional snacks is inevitably growing, while the younger generations have wholeheartedly embraced the concept of healthy aging.

The concept of snacking has moved from a once-in-a-while treat to a meal replacement in many cases. Coined ‘snackification’, it’s the art of snacking or grazing on smaller, more frequent treats throughout the day instead of traditional, larger meals, driven by busy lifestyles, the demand for convenience and a sharper focus on health. Essentially, it’s redefining the way we eat and presents both opportunities and challenges for the snack industry.

It means that consumers are searching for treats that are a good source of vitamins, protein, good fats, probiotics, fiber – anything that provides real, measurable benefits in addition to calories.

In recent years, the global snacking landscape has undergone a significant transformation. Traditional snacks like chips, cookies and candy bars have been supplemented – and in many cases, replaced – by a new generation of snacks that promise not only to satisfy cravings but also to provide holistic benefits. These snacks – trending as fortified and functional – are increasingly popular among consumers of all demographics, let along those health-focused snackers looking to balance indulgence with nutrition.

“The ongoing shift towards health and fitness means there is increasing scope for fortified and functional snacks, as consumers seek additional health benefits from products,” Richard Jefferson, marketing manager of UK-based healthy snacks wholesaler Epicurium, told Bakery&Snacks.

“Key requirements include fiber for gut health, minerals, vitamins, botanicals, collagen for wellness, mental health, skin and almost any other health need you can think of.”

The rise of fortified snacks

Food as medicine sefa ozel
Pic: GettyImages/sefa ozel

Fortified snacks have been enhanced with additional nutrients that may not naturally be present in significant amounts.

One of the earliest examples of fortifying food dates back to the 1920, when iodine was added to salt to prevent goitre, a thyroid gland disorder.

The first fortified snack emerged in the mid-20th​ Century, the most notable example being the fortification of breakfast cereals​ in the 1930s and 1940s. Companies like Kellogg's and General Mills began adding vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium to their cereals to enhance their nutritional USP (unique selling point) but also in an efforts to combat nutrient deficiencies in the general population.

This practice laid the groundwork for the fortification of other snacks and a whole new market opportunity for producers. Think flour enriched with iron,​ yogurt fortified with probiotics and even cookies with added fiber. What started as a niche trend soon blew up into an all-pervading demand by consumers and these snacks today are mainstream. In fact, modern consumers demand more from their snacks than just a moment of joy and demand – no, expect, a value added proposition.

One of the most popular categories within fortified snacks is protein-enhanced products. Protein bars fortified with a blend of vitamins and minerals make a convenient option for a post-workout snack or a meal replacement for fitness enthusiasts and busy professionals alike – something producers of Clif Bar, Kind Snacks, Quest Bars, RxBar and Lärabar banked on and have seen the dividends.

Beyond basic nutrition

Bread and bodybuilder protein Getty halfbottle
Pic: GettyImages/halfbottle

‘Functional’ takes the ‘fortified’ concept a step further.

While fortifying snacks focusses on adding essential nutrients, functional snacks are designed to offer specific health benefits beyond basic nutrition,​ ranging from improved gut health and enhanced cognitive function, to packing in probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids or adaptogens, to fulfilling the dietary needs of those following organic, vegan or free from diets.

One prominent example of functional snacks is probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial to gut health, most suitable in applications like yogurt, kefir and even granola bars. Brands like Chobani and Activia have capitalized on this trend in the yogurt category, while Purely Elizabeth (Probiotic Granola Bars), Enjoy Life (Enjoy Life ProBurst Bites) and Health Warrior (Health Warrior Chia Bars + Probiotics), among others, have innovated on the bar scene.

Another ingredient snack producers are currently zeroing in on is omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for its anti-inflammatory properties and heart health benefits. The inclusion of omega-3 not only boosts the nutritional profile of snacks like flaxseed crackers or chia seed puddings, but also attracts consumers interested in specific health outcomes, such as improved cardiovascular health or better mental clarity.

Adaptogens – a class of herbs and mushrooms – are increasingly found in new snack launches, marketed to manage stress and improving overall wellbeing.

“Consumers are increasingly opting for snacks that fit within their lifestyle, with snacks that offer functional benefits seen as a means to fuel their active lifestyle: be that going to the gym, going for a run, or playing sports,” Jefferson told this site.

“This is seeing a growing demand for snacks that do more than just taste nice – to being able to aid performance and lifestyle goals in what is a key element of the growing health and wellness megatrend.”

He noted demand for these types of snacks is likely to be increased further this summer, ahead of upcoming global sporting events like the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics (July 26 to August 11) and UEFA Euro 2024 (June 14 to July 14 in Germany).

“These events are expected to trigger an increased health drive amongst consumer, as they feel the influence of the events sweeping across the country,” said Jefferson.

“This presents further opportunities for functional snacking.”

Consumer trends shaping the market

Healthy old woman Getty WANDER WOMEN COLLECTIVE
Pic: GettyImages/Wander Woman Collective

The growth of the fortified and functional snacks market is being fueled by several key trends.

Firstly, as mentioned by Jefferson, there is a heightened awareness of health and wellness, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z consumers who prioritize a holistic approach to health.

This demographic is not only interested in avoiding harmful ingredients but also actively seeks out foods that can enhance their overall wellbeing.

Secondly, convenience plays a significant role. Modern lifestyles mean a faster pace, with people continually on-the-go and time-poor when it comes to preparing nutritious meals. Fortified and functional snacks offer a quick, easy, and portable solution to this problem, fitting seamlessly into busy schedules.

The pandemic further accelerated this trend. Following lockdown and the snacking binge that occurred because of boredom, insecurity and isolation, people are more mindful of healthier eating habits – especially those now working from home.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve ditched indulgent snacks for healthier options – there’ll always be room for a moment of decadence. It’s just brought in an increased demand for snacks that can provide health benefits, such as boosting immunity or reducing stress.

Challenges and considerations

Stale bread Getty
Pic: GettyImages

Despite their popularity, fortified and functional snacks are not without challenges. One major concern is the potential for over-fortification, where the addition of too many vitamins and minerals can lead to excessive intake, which may have adverse health effects. The addition of these ingredients can also impact the organoleptic properties of a snack – the ultimate consumer’s purchase decider.

Fortifying snacks with vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients may alter taste, leaving some end products with a bitter or metallic taste. Conversely, fortification can also enhance the overall flavor profile by adding depth or complexity to the taste.

Certain ingredients may introduce a new aroma level, which can influence the snack’s overall sensory experience. Vitamins and minerals, for example, have distinct odors that will undoubtedly impact the aroma … but this can be easily counteracted with the addition of herbs, spices or natural flavorings.

Fortification can impact the texture of snacks, particularly if the added ingredients affect their moisture content or structural integrity. For example, adding protein powder or fiber may change the density or chewiness of a snack bar. Emulsifiers or stabilizers used in fortification may also affect the smoothness or creaminess of snack products.

Fortification could alter appearance – color, shape or surface texture. However, while certain vitamins and miners will cause snacks to darkening or speckling, there is a plus side: visible particles or inclusions can boost the visual appeal.

Addressing the challenges of fortifying snacks requires a holistic approach that considers both nutritional balance and environmental sustainability.

As Jefferson told us, “This demand also ties in with the growing sustainability and good-for-the-planet trends, which is seeing consumers place more importance on snacks that are responsibly and ethically sourced – from ingredients to packaging – and are even willing to pay more in some cases if the brand is perceived to align with their personal values.”

Manufacturers must carefully select fortified ingredients, optimize formulations and implement sustainable sourcing and production practices to ensure that fortified snacks provide nutritional benefits while minimizing environmental impact.

As the demand for healthier, more beneficial snacks continues to grow, the industry is likely to see even more innovation. Advances in food tech and nutrition science will enable the development of snacks that can deliver targeted health benefits more effectively. For consumers, this means a wider array of options that cater to their specific health needs and preferences.

Collaboration across the food industry, government agencies and consumers is essential for advancing sustainable fortification strategies and promoting healthier and more environmentally friendly snack options.

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