"Health is now on most people's agenda, and campaigns like the government's Change4Life programme mean that awareness of the benefits of healthy eating is growing," says Deborah Carter, senior consultant (FMCG) at brand consultancy Dragon Rouge. "Suppliers are no longer just paying lip service to health - especially given last year's ban on advertising junk food to kids," she adds.
The past year has seen an explosion of baked products, wholegrain ingredients, natural foods and fruits, nuts and seeds on to the market, contributing to a healthy 9% sales growth for the sector, according to IRI data for the 52 weeks to December 27.
But retailers be warned: no matter how healthy a product is, taste is still the consumer's number one reason to buy.
"The range of healthy options will continue to expand, but not at the expense of taste, which is key to a product's success," Carter adds.
The jury is still out on whether consumers' taste buds have come around to accepting baked potato products instead of regular fried crisps, according to Carter. However, Pepsico is confident that Walkers Baked is a winning formula. The brand is now worth more than £37m and has been the most successful new product launch in the crisps and snacks category in the past four years, according to Pepsico.
"Walkers Baked contains 70% less fat than regular crisps, and proves to consumers that healthy choices can taste fantastic," says Walkers managing director Richard Evans.
Pepsico is also tapping into the consumer trend towards more 'natural' products with continued marketing push on SunBites. The £18m range contains 30% less fat than regular crisps, and is made with whole wheat, whole oats and whole corn.
A new sun ripened sweet chilli flavour has been added to the range, in line with the trend towards this flavour.
The Snack a Jacks brand has also launched a new sweet chilli variant, as well as a Berry one, to complement its top-selling caramel flavour.
And, not to be outdone, healthy snack rival Ryvita has been busy developing its range. It plans to pump £9m into its Ryvita Minis brand this year, including a new TV campaign fronted by a slimline Fern Britton, and a national press campaign. Ryvita Minis, which have been on the market for five years now, are billed as the "perfect on-the-go" snack, with 3% fat and 100 calories per bag.
And some of the market's newer names are enjoying success, too. The Jerky Group, manufacturer of Beef Jerky and Beef Biltong, is experiencing a sales uplift of 30% year on year with its dried beef snacks, and its convenience sales are particularly strong, says company owner James Newitt.
"The snacks come in a convenient clip-display format, which is the perfect means to maximise brand awareness," he explains.
When it comes to merchandising, Newitt advises retailers to display products in their snacking sections, as well as in the alcohol aisle and at the front of store to drive impulse purchase.
The ambient meat snacking category is growing in popularity as consumers look for something totally different and healthier than crisps and chocolate, says Anthony Wilkinson, Fridge Raiders senior brand manager.
The Fridge Raiders brand is enjoying sales growth of 52.4% just four years after it first hit the shelves, and Wilkinson is expecting further success this summer following the launch of new limited-edition Hot & Spicy and BBQ Bites in April.
Taking the biscuit
The move towards healthy eating is the fastest growing trend in grocery, with healthy sales up 13% compared with 2005, according to TNS Worldpanel data. And one segment taking a significant bite out of the market is healthier biscuits, which is experiencing sales growth of 6.5% (Nielsen, 52 weeks to April 18, 2009).
The £53m Go Ahead range from United Biscuits is also enjoying marked success within the segment, with sales growing at 12%.
"The biscuits and snacks category is particularly important to retailers in these difficult economic times as shoppers will be looking for healthy, affordable treats," says Alice Cadman, head of strategic projects at UB. "Single-serve portion packs such as
Go Ahead Crispy Fruit Slices sit well next to the till area and can really help to boost sales," she adds.
Nature Valley manufacturer General Mills UK reiterated the scale of opportunity that the healthier biscuits segment presents to retailers. "This is a serious opportunity to cash in," says sales director Andy Foweather.
"Healthier biscuits are the biggest sub category of total biscuits and the driving force of the category. Retailers should be looking closely at creating an efficient, healthier biscuit range that focuses on quality brands with strength in innovation to maximise the category's potential over the next 12 months."
The cereal bar category is also showing healthy growth, with convenience sales up 7%.
Kellogg's continues to grow ahead of the category year on year with value sales up 11%. Its Nutri-Grain brand is the largest cereal snacks brand in the UK, followed by Special K bars.
The company is currently spending £3.5m on advertising for its Special K Original Mini Breaks, which were launched back in 2007 as an oat biscuit alternative to the traditional cereal bar.
Meanwhile, Nature Valley, which recently passed the £10m mark and is growing at 42.9% (IRI Grocery Impulse Outlets, 52 weeks to March 21, 2009), will invest £4m in the brand throughout 2009. The spend will include a 16-week national TV advertising burst over the next 12 months. A new Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix, which combines wholegrain oats, chunky nuts and fruit pieces, was added to the range at the beginning of April and comes in a multipack format and an 18-count display case.
Overall, the cereal bar performance has been driven by kids' bars, with Rice Krispie Squares, Frosties bars, Coco Pops bars and Weetos bar all performing well, according to Weetabix. The introduction of a pricemark flash has helped drive sales of the Weetos bar and the same tactic is to be used for the new kids' Oaty bars.
"The healthy snacks category has been gradually picking up over the past couple of years. I suppose it all started with the TV, where there is always talk about healthy eating, and you hardly ever see a magazine without something to do with diets on the cover nowadays.
"Instead of a bar of chocolate, a lot of customers are now picking up a healthy snack like a Special K or Nutri-Grain bar. When we had our refit a couple of years ago we installed a separate section for healthy snacks at the checkout, where historically we had chocolate bars. We stock Nutri-Grain and Special K snack bars, Nutri-Grain Soft Oaties chocolate chip cookie and Nature Valley snacks. The section does really well for us.
"We have also begun to stock healthy snacks alongside sandwiches in the chiller, which is also doing really with lunchtime customers.
"There is a lot of room for growth in the category. I've got four children and know that parents are a lot more careful about the snacks they give their children."
Paul Sheppard, McColl's, Bath
1 Kellogg's Special K
2 Harvest Chewee
3 Kellogg's Rice Krispies
4 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain
5 Jordans Frusli
6 Alpen Light
7 Nature Valley Granola
8 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Elevenses
9 Cadbury Brunch Bar
10 Alpen Cereal Bar
Source: TNS 52 w/e 17 May 09
Glisten has launched Skinny Candy, a range of 99-calorie 'guilt-free' confectionery. The range comprises two chocolate countlines - the 'Chocstick' and 'Chocmaltie' - and three portion-sized bags of confectionery treats. The sweets are supplied to retailers in counter-top display units, in cases of 24.
tel: 020 7367 5100
Bottlegreen has launched its Elderflower Sorbet in single-serve tubs for consumers who want to enjoy an elegant treat on the go. The sorbets combine sugar syrup and natural extracts and have no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. The 125ml single-serve tubs include a spoon.
tel: 01453 87400
A vine idea
Merchant Gourmet is hoping to make the tomato a handbag staple with its ready-to- eat Mi-Cuit Tomato pouch. The slow-roasted tomatoes are packaged in a self-sealing pouch to help keep them fresh and easier to dip and out of. They contain just 113 calories per pouch.
tel: 0800 731 3549