Snack processors seek new ways to meet changing consumer needs as consumption grows

The snack market is under pressure to shed its association with guilty consumption through the introduction of healthier ingredients and manufacturers are innovating to deliver the next generation of nutritious and authentic snackable moments.

Valued at US$427 billion in 2020, the global snack food market is forecast to register a CAGR of 3.37% during the forecast period (2021-2026), according to Mordor Intelligence. Manufacturers thus have an opportunity to grow and thrive in this sector.

The snack market is however under pressure to shed its association with guilty consumption through the introduction of healthier ingredients. More sustainable processing and packaging is also in demand to help snack makers deliver the next generation of nutritious and authentic snackable moments. In this article we review some of the trends in snack processing that will help players in the field deliver on this promise.

Keeping up with a health-conscious consumer

Ingredients provider ADM’s research finds that 31% of consumers are purchasing more items tailored for their health, while 50% report a preference for snacks that naturally contain beneficial ingredients.

Manufacturers have responded in kind and now produce a wide range of nutrient-dense snacks with functional health benefits aimed at supporting immune systems, enhancing mood, and sustaining energy.

Trend setter in the field, Deux Foods has launched a line of functional, plant-based cookie doughs that are enhanced with immunity boosting vitamins, collagen, and protein. Happy Family Organics has on the other hand, introduced Happy Mama Lactation Cookies, designed to support breastfeeding mothers and their unique nutritional needs. 

Manufacturers may pack functional ingredients in their snacks, but the giant in the room remains the high salt and sugar levels that are usually in most snacks.

For the savoury snacks, salt has been a problem, with countries from the UK, to most recently the US, introducing salt reduction targets to prevent excessive intake of the seasoning. Calls for lower amounts of salt has forced manufacturers to reformulate their products to meet these more stringent targets.

Greater success has been found in products relying on other ingredients to provide the flavor, not just salt, as formulators can work within the seasoning system to offset any flavor loss when salt is reduced. This was the key to Land O’Lakes’ entire strategy to sodium reduction, according to John McDonald, Ph.D., R.&D. director, food, innovation and technology group, Land O’Lakes. Snacks with high sugar levels like chocolates are also being reformulated often with low-calorific sweeteners to maintain their level of sweetness while doing away with the harmful calories.  

Plant-based boom

The plant-based boom has taken the food industry by storm. From plant-based meat to milk and now snacks, the trend shows no sign of stopping. According to Expert Market Research, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.7% in the forecast period of 2022-2027 to reach a value of US$57 billion by 2026.

Given its potential, snack producers are quickly jumping on the bandwagon, producing delectable treats from an expanded range of plant sources. Plant-based and free-from brand Gosh! has for instance launched chilled, ready-to-eat Snack Bites in two tasty flavours for consumers seeking plant-based snacks. The Smokey BBQ Sweet Potato is made from sweet potato, sweetcorn and black beans and has a smoky flavour inspired by the deep South while the Moroccan Spiced Veg is comprised of Chickpeas and red peppers that are paired with dates, apricots, herbs and spices inspired by the cuisine of North Africa.

In Kenya, Bdelo is at the forefront of the plant-based revolution with its healthy and tasty Maize Tortilla Chips & Tortillas that are 100 % naturally seasoned and are gluten and preservative free. As the plant-based wave continues to gather momentum, more brands are expected to join in while existing ones continue experimenting with more plant-based options that have never been really considered snack worthy. “We were able to raise $10 million this year due to the interest in plant-based snacking, and we don’t foresee this trend changing anytime soon,” says Bill Glaser, CEO of Outstanding Foods, a manufacturer of gluten-free, vegan and kosher snack chips.

Upcycling creates new snacks

The need to cut down on food waste has had snack makers exploring innovative ways to make the most out of material that would have otherwise ended up as waste. From turning left over cacao fruit to a delectable fruit and nut bite to converting left over pulp into a crunchy, high fiber, satiating chips, snack makers are bringing back leftovers to our tables.

Rachael Mamane sees upcycled snacks—a burgeoning category of food products made from would-be-wasted ingredients—as the industrial food complex apologizing for its extravagance. “We are observing a process that ends in waste and identifying a use for that waste,” Mamane says of the scraps and by-products marketed in perky packages.

Africa has an inexhaustible list of snacks that have been made from upcycled fruits and so does the rest of the world. Koa, a Swiss-Ghanaian startup, is leading the upcycling trend from the front, repurposing the pulp and juice of the cocoa fruit into cocoa fruit juice and powder for use in enhancing flavours of other snacks. The company says its products have found excellent usage in chocolate, bakery, and ice cream products, as well as beverages.

Snack makers are now producing a wide range of nutrient dense snacks with functional health benefits aimed at supporting immune systems, enhancing mood, and sustaining energy

In Ethiopia, a public-private partnership is repurposing leftover papaya to develop ‘affordable’ and ‘nutritious’ fruit bars enriched with whey protein, vitamins and minerals for locals. Elsewhere, Renewal Mill turns the leftovers from soymilk production into a product called okara flour, which has a whopping amount of protein and fiber: seven grams and twenty grams per half cup, respectively. The US food startup notes that the addition of Okara flour into standard baked goods can help improve their macronutrient profiles to an impressive degree.

Given that upcycled snacks are made with produce and animal products that would otherwise go to waste, these items make people feel better about their consumption habits. The trend is certainly going to stay with us for a long time as consumers seek out brands that will aid them in the process of living more sustainably. Snack makers thus have a lot more to gain from innovating with upcycled ingredients.

Growth is also promised, as the upcycled food waste industry that was worth US$46.7 billion in 2019 is expected to register a CAGR of 5% for the next 10 years.

A drive towards smaller snack portions

A crackdown on portion sizes has also seen snack makers shift from larger share-size bags to single portion packets, influenced by the need to encourage people to snack with intention and monitor how much they eat.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) notes that when it comes to snacks, portion control is an issue, stating that norms for what constitutes a suitable amount to consume are shaped by food portions we routinely encounter in supermarkets. In response to a call for portion reduction, snack industry leaders like Mondelez have started to reconfigure processing lines to produce snacks in smaller portions than they used to.

Mondelez recently announced that it plans to generate 20% of its snack’s revenue from portion-controlled products—individually wrapped items containing 200 calories or less—by 2025. Healthy snack company Kind, recently acquired by the snacks giant, has taken the lead and introduced KIND Minis, a small version of the company’s classic bars. The almost bite-sized bars pack 100-calories (or less) and are effectively half-sized versions of the original product.

As people increasingly become weary about their calorie intake and studies advocating for smaller portion sizes continue to grow, we can only expect more snack companies to join the bandwagon. Teri Johnson, the divisional sales manager at tna solutions, advises snack makers to invest in packaging systems that offer flexibility in packaging size, ultra-high speeds, and low reject rates. “This will help manufacturers successfully implement smaller packaging sizes that fit within guidelines,” she adds. 

Sustainability impacts snack processing

Snack makers, just like other food enterprises, feel the pressure from consumers and governments to improve sustainability credentials.

In snack processing, focus on sustainability has started right from sourcing with manufacturers choosing sustainably sourced ingredients. Recognising the importance of sustainability, Ghanaian chocolate startup Fairafric sources 100% of its cocoa from organic farms. The sustainably sourced cocoa has greatly contributed to the company’s carbon neutral status.

Apart from sourcing, snack makers are also researching options in equipment and processing technologies to save on energy and cut down on emissions.

In packaging, where the greatest saving can be achieved, Vertical Form Fill Seal (VFFS) have become popular pieces of packaging equipment. According to Teri, VFSS are designed to increase productivity without investing more resources, such as time, energy and manpower, or introducing additional machines. This enables producers to streamline their packaging process with a single piece of equipment to deliver optimized packaging speeds and yield to achieve maximum productivity and energy savings. VFSS can also support producers in reducing product waste to levels as low as 0.5 percent, elevating the brand and/or products’ sustainability credentials, adds Teri. 

Apart from packaging, modern snack making technologies offer other sustainable features that can help reduce energy usage and waste. Power saving software, or features such as ‘standby time,’ for example, ensure equipment is only using energy when necessary. Furthermore, less product damage equals less waste.

Further, equipment such as conveying systems that incorporate a gateless design allow for gentle product transfer and reduced breakage. Other conveying technology that can help improve efficiency, includes accurate seasoning, as well as temperature control on fryers. The former ensures the product isn’t over-seasoned, therefore avoiding raw material wastage by overuse, while the latter ensures waste of the product through burning or quality issues is kept to a minimum.

With all snack major from PepsiCo to Mondelez and Mars Inc., announcing ambitious net zero commitments, sustainable snack manufacturing as a trend is bound to stick.

A challenging but fulfilling journey

In a nutshell, snake makers are trying to make their product as healthy and as sustainable as possible. The endeavor however does not come without costs, as consumers are not willing to sacrifice on taste in exchange for a healthy or sustainable product.

“New healthy ingredients can have different taste, texture, and mouthfeel that has to be incorporated into a product in a way that does not sacrifice taste,” explains Robert Schumann, director of marketing for KPM Analytics. “New ingredients may also affect how the product is manufactured, which requires new formulations and engineering to mass produce. A good example is the gluten-free trend, where non-wheat replacement ingredients present a complex challenge to new product formulation and manufacture.”

Onboarding newer sustainable technologies also comes with cost implications that drive up the cost of the final product. Despite these challenges, companies of all sizes from snacking giant Mars Inc. to Ghanaian startup Koa have found innovative solutions to keep up with consumer trends. Their success is proof that it’s possible to give consumers what they want – a healthy and sustainably produced snack.

This feature appeared in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of Food Business Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE

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