Healthy Finds a Home in Snacks


“Low” and “light” are just some of the ways in which marketers are creating better-for-you snack options.

Pop Art Snacks’ organic, air-popped Rosemary Truffle popcorn appeals to the “slightly eccentric foodie and health-conscious snack lover,” the brand says. Photo from Pop Art Snacks.


Healthfulness may not be a key driver when consumers purchase snacks, but that hasn’t stopped marketers from trying to put better-for-you options in shoppers’ paths. Snack food makers continue to position products on health platforms of various kinds, from the “passive” (low fat, low calorie, natural, etc.,) to the “active” (vitamin and mineral fortified or offering specific health benefits like support for bone health or heart health).


“Passive” Claims

The snack foods market, as defined by Innova Market Insights, includes not only traditional savory or salty snacks and snack nuts and seeds, but also products such as meat snacks, popcorn, and fruit-based snacks, as well as finger foods and hors d’oeuvres. Under this definition, 38% of global snacks launched in the 12 months ending April 2015 were positioned on a health platform of some kind, rising to over 70% in the United States alone, according to Innova Market Insights reports.

The majority of products advertise “passive” benefits, with “natural” and clean-label claims dominating the space. In fact, “natural,” “no additives/preservatives,” and/or organic claims were featured on nearly a quarter of global launches and nearly 44% of launches in just the United States.



“Gluten-free” also continues to feature strongly, used on 13% of global snack launches and 40% of launches in the United States. In terms of product and market development, the snacks category benefits particularly from the fact that many basic snack ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, soya, and nuts, are naturally gluten-free, so it is a claim that is relatively easy to achieve in many instances.

To offer gluten-free formulations, U.S. marketers are replacing wheat or other cereals with ingredients such as lentils, black beans, navy beans, cassava, brown rice, nuts, sweet potatoes, and a wide variety of other vegetables.


Protein Focus

Another key trend impacting snacks along with the rest of the food and drinks market is a heavier focus on protein and protein content. Just under 4% of total snack foods launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months ending April 2015 used a “high in” or “source of” protein positioning, rising to nearly 13% in the United States.

Categories that are naturally high in protein or perceived to be good sources of protein are able to leverage this type of claim more widely-most notably, meat snacks, where protein claims featured on nearly 15% of global launches, rising to over 50% in the United States.


“Low” and “Light”

The snacks industry has worked hard in recent years to improve the nutritional profile of its standard products and brands. There are ongoing efforts to reduce fat and salt levels. PepsiCo has been a leader in this area, both in the United States and globally.

“Low” and “light” claims persist today and began as far back as the mid-1980s, initially focusing on fat reduction and the use of healthier fats. More recently, reducing salt levels is an area of interest.

Although reducing salt is a key concern in government- and industry-driven health initiatives in recent years, there are signs that interest is limited, however. We see this in terms of product-launch activity.

Although the number of low-sodium snack launches recorded by Innova Market Insights has generally risen over the past five years, their share of total snack launches has fallen globally, from 2.5% to 1.9%. This is attributed to the significant technical challenges associated with making further reductions to salt content without adversely affecting product taste and shelf life.


Popped Snacks

In the “low” and “light” arena, popped snacks have grown especially popular in the bagged-snacks category. Made with potato or corn flakes or other cereal pieces, popped chips are turned into crisps using heat and pressure and are marketed as a healthier, guilt-free option to standard fried and baked products.

The original Popchips brand debuted in the United States in 2007 and continues to perform well today despite growing competition from other heavyweight brands, including Kellogg’s Special K Cracker Crisps, Mondelez’s Nabisco Wheat Thins Popped, and General Mills’ Chex Mix Popped. Most notably, U.S. snacks market leader FritoLay (Pepsico) introduced its Lay’s Air Popped in 2013.

To stay competitive, Popchips has launched numerous products, including a Veggie Chips brand in 2014 made with a blend of nine vegetables (kale, spinach, tomato, pumpkin, potato, beet, bell pepper, navy bean, and chickpea). The “popped” concept has also spread to other sectors, including tortilla chips like Balance Foods’ Poptillas.

Popped snacks are a strong up-and-coming trend, but the traditional popcorn market is still standing strong both in the United States and Europe. Gourmet lines already established in the United States are starting to make their way to Europe, bringing with them more complex flavors beyond popcorn’s traditional “movie theatre snack” image. Popcorn also checks the box in terms of healthfulness, being natural, low in calories, and high in fiber. Now, with new bold flavors and flavor combinations, including combos with kernels and more unusual ingredients, popcorn is set for continued growth.


What Is a “Snack”?

As the definition of snacking broadens, high levels of new product and promotional activity will continue driving sales, including in more traditional snacks markets. In addition to focusing on a relatively healthy profile, other drivers include premium and super-premium products, often with unusual flavors and ingredients; developing existing brands; using new ingredients and formats; and targeting new usage occasions.


Innova Market Insights is your source for new-product data. The Innova Database ( is the product of choice for the whole product-development team, offering excellent product pictures, search possibilities, and analysis. See what food manufacturers are doing around the world: track trends, competitors, ingredients, and flavors. In today’s fast-moving environment, this is a resource you cannot afford to be without.


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