As the health and obesity debate continues with its GDAs, traffic lights, good fats and bad fats, so a new market for healthy - or at the very least -healthier snacking alternatives is emerging.
As such consumers are turning to natural snacks such as nuts, dried fruit and berries while most snack manufacturers are falling over themselves in the rush to launch a healthier version of their best-selling lines.
And producers of natural snacks are finding a new market for products that they have been making for years.
Dormen Foods' director Michael Brooks says his company is a case in point: "We have been supplying premium natural snacks to hotels for a number of years without really having a presence in the grocery sector. However the health debate has definitely helped in so far as it has introduced more people to nuts. As a result we are certainly seeing more sales through the convenience sector than ever before." He adds that as people skip more meals they are looking for a natural snack replacement. This encouraged the company to launch a new fruit and nut line. "The nuts are baked rather than fried and we think they are an excellent complement to the dried fruit," explains Brooks.
He says that getting the packaging to stand out in the crowded snacks fixture was a major concern, as it needed to reflect both the taste and the quality of the product to consumers shopping in a hurry. "Impulse buying is crucial as the product is still quite new. The packaging needs to match the quality of the product."
Of course, nuts have been present on the snacking fixture for a long time but now manufacturers are starting to emphasise the healthy credentials of the product.
New product development in nuts is is now all about health rather than the traditional fried or
salted variants.
Trigon Snacks, which makes Planters, is one manufacturer hoping to lead the way in healthy snacking with the launch of Trail Mix.
Packs have been developed specifically for the convenience, vending and leisure sectors and are aimed at teenagers and young adults for on-the-go snacking occasions. And the product is being promoted as a healthier alternative to crisps or chocolate.
Trigon commercial director Duncan Hill says that nuts is the fastest growing sector within the snacks market, up 17% year on year.
He puts this down to the increase in demand for naturally healthy snacks plus the fact that consumers are trading up into higher value nuts. Diet endorsements have also played a role in educating consumers on the health benefits of nuts.
Says Hill: "The overall nut market is showing strong growth all year round, fuelled by added-value products but our research also revealed a gap in the market for a youth product. Trail Mix therefore meets the needs of today's younger consumers and will be available at a time and a place that is convenient for them."
Just like the indulgent snacks category where ethnic cuisine company Sharwood's saw an opportunity to develop a new snack, so too are there opportunities on the health side for non-snackfood companies to get in on the act.
Cranberry expert Ocean Spray is one such company hoping to create a new market for its products. Hence it has developed a dried cranberry snacking range which is available in four varieties. These are dried cranberries, dried cranberries with mixed nuts & seeds, dried cranberries with raisins and dried cranberries with tropical fruits.
Ocean Spray is hoping to capitalise on the cranberry's status as a so-called superfruit and drive sales incrementally to its successful juices ranges.
big brand status
Ocean Spray International Services commercial director Jane Robinson explains: "Recent research has shown that our dried cranberries are powerful protectors of our health in the same way that our juices are and deliver on taste."
She is convinced that Ocean Spray's big brand status can help drive the category forward. "With increased focus on health in general, this category is crying out for new healthy options from the big brands to achieve greater growth. Our new range is ideal for all snacking occasions including lunchbox and desktop dining."
With the health of the nation under the microscope, the pressure is well and truly on for the big brand snack suppliers to act responsibly and make whatever contribution they can. The difficulty for suppliers, of course, is bringing consumers along with them as they make the changes necessary to satisfy these health concerns.
PepsiCo has in fact decided that there is no 'one size fits all' solution to offering consumers a healthier option. The company has just relaunched its Walkers Lights range, with a name change from Walkers Lites and some flavour alterations. The range now contains a third less fat that Walkers' regular crisps and is designed to appeal more to women. However the company has conceded that there is also a significant group of consumers who will just not buy a diet brand. But they are concerned about what they eat and so simply cut down on snacks altogether. The answer, says marketing manager Cara Beeby, is Walkers Baked.
The big difference with these snacks is that they are baked and as a result contain 70% less fat than standard crisps.
Beeby is confident that Walkers Baked will provide incremental sales rather than cannibalise the company's existing lines. She claims: "Through our consumer research we have identified around 300 million snacking occasions per year for UK consumers and as Walkers Baked are aimed at consumers who have chosen to avoid crisps we don't think there is any risk of hurting our other brands."
The product, which is being rolled out now, will be supported by a £6m marketing campaign.
PepsiCo is not the only company focusing on reformulation.
Having acquired the former Golden Wonder-owned Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies brands in February, UBUK has set to work on improving their healthy credentials.
In line with UBUK's ongoing health and nutrition strategy, it has reduced saturated fats by 50% and sodium by up to 30% in both brands. The company has also removed all artificial sweeteners.
UBUK impulse trading director Michael Rouse says: "We are making a £1m investment in the Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies brands to ensure they are healthier and also available in the right flavours and formats to drive sales within impulse. We urge retailers to get behind these brands and capitalise on the massive impulse sales opportunity."
The new healthier versions of these brands are being rolled out through cash and carries and delivered wholesalers this month.
So the message to convenience retailers is a simple one. If you haven't got a healthy snacks section within your overall snacks fixture then you are indeed missing a trick and it could cost you dear in lost customers and lost sales.