Consumers' busy lifestyles demand healthy snacks on-the-go.

Everyone has been faced with the dilemma of whether to choose convenience over health. Luckily, consumers don’t have to choose anymore, especially when it comes to healthy snacking on-the-go. Companies are recognizing the need for healthy, portable snacks and creating new formulations and packaging to make life easier for us all.

Off and Running—and Eating!
Snacking and snack foods often are considered to be the detrimental force behind the failure of the American diet. However, snacks not only are a way to make it through a hunger spell, they also can be a valuable contribution to consumers’ daily nutritional plan—even on-the-run, says Johanna Southern, marketing director for B&R Classics, Huntington, NY. According to an Information Resources, Inc. study referenced by Southern, 42% of consumers seek snacks offering health benefits beyond basic nutrition.

An Early Start. What is eaten around breakfast time and what snacks are prepared for the rest of the day can make the difference between a healthy diet and a nutritional avalanche. However, many people don’t have time in the morning or just don’t feel hungry for a major breakfast feast. “We’ve learned from consumers that about 50% put their favorite cereals in baggies to bring with them, and we wanted to give them a better solution,” states Andrew Aussie, co-founder and president of Honest Foods, San Bruno, CA. To provide time-saving solutions for consumers, retailers should consider stocking their shelves with snack packs and ready-to-go morning foods. “We created Granola Planks because we think breakfast is an area that needs more attention as far as healthy snacks are concerned,” says Aussie.

Eating a low-glycemic breakfast or early snack—one that is high in protein and fiber—can improve overall blood sugar levels by lunchtime and reduce cravings throughout the day. A granola or snack bar or some mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit like those offered in re-sealable packages from Eden Foods, Inc., Clinton, MI, can create a perfect running start to the day. Stacy’s Pita Chips, Co. of Randolph, MA offers Bagel Chips in addition to its Pita Chips and Soy Crisps.

Weight Management. The word “snack” was originally meant to indicate a share, a portion or a part. But the trouble is that too often snacks have grown into full-blown meals with explosive calorie counts. Retailers should take portion control into consideration and make it easy for consumers to find alternatives to higher calorie conventional snacks. Notes Michael Smulders, founder of Bakery on Main, Glastonbury, CT, “They prefer foods from 100 to 250 calories that make it easy to control caloric intake.” Bakery on Main offers gluten-free Grab & Go Granola Bars, each only containing 140 calories.

Nicole Dawes, COO of Late July Organic Snacks, Hyannis, MA, agrees. “Single-serve snacks are convenient, portable, offer portion control and are an inexpensive way for consumers to try a new product,” she says.
Following the calorie-based snack trend, US Mills, Needham, MA, offers 90–calorie snack packs of Mini Bites Chocolate Graham Snacks and mini Bites Honey Graham Snacks.

In addition to calorie counts, the ingredients in snacks are equally, if not more, important to help consumers manage healthy eating patterns and enhance their daily nutritional intakes. A good snack choice will be “nutrient dense and packed with organic whole grains, so you don’t need to eat a lot to feel satisfied. [Many] snacks have no empty calories, because they don’t contain any refined flour and are made without added sugar or oil,” says Mary Waldner, founder of Mary’s Gone Crackers, Gridley, CA. The company offers Mary’s Gone Crackers Original Crackers in 1.25 oz. snack packs and Mary’s Gone Crackers Sticks & Twigs, also available in 1.25 oz. snack packs.

Managing partner of Salba Smart Products, Denver, CO, William “Rally” Ralston, agrees with this quality over quantity philosophy. “A 2-oz. portion of Salba Smart Organic Tortilla Chips and 2 oz. of Salba Smart Organic Salsa is a total of only 300 calories. Not only will this fill you up and provide your daily value of omega-3 fatty acids, but it offers the added benefit of fiber, has a low sodium content, zero grams of sugar and is also gluten free.”

Energy. When in a rush, we often grab anything available, too often something with high amounts of sugar. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are often culprits in unhealthy snacking patterns that lead to inconsistent energy levels, weight gain and debilitating crashes. Jack Challem, author of The Food-Mood Solution, writes, “Sugary foods and refined carbohydrates play havoc with blood sugar levels, increasing mental fuzziness and tiredness” (1). Aussie of Honest Foods agrees, adding, “Unfortunately, too many snacks are merely sugar-based, for an empty short-term burst of energy followed by yawning cravings.” Eating snacks such as fresh or dried fruits, nuts and berries can help with energy maintenance throughout the day.

When it comes to sweeter snacks, however, Kris Fillat, founder and CEO of The GoodOnYa Bar, Solana Beach, CA, points out, “It doesn’t mean we have to eat only nuts and berries. We can have sweet treats. Let’s just use raw, organic honey and maple syrup.” Fillat urges consumers to read labels and find the “hidden” sugar in many low- or non-fat snacks that use sodium and carbs to compensate for flavor loss. Retailers should help explain nutritional contents to first-time product buyers or new customers. Reading labels is a very important step in snack decision making—labels disclose the true serving sizes, caloric intake and nutritional values of a snack that will affect daily energy and dietary goals.

Ralston emphasizes how the nutritional content of a snack can make all the difference between eating empty calories and eating something to proactively nourish the body. “We feel that Salba grain is an excellent ingredient for any snack manufacturer to incorporate into their formulations. The increase of omega-3 fatty acids are vital in all age groups aiding in brain development, recovery from physical exertion and other day to day functions. Salba will also increase your every day energy levels,” he says.

A Taste for Health
Although most people have good intentions when it comes to healthy snacking, taste is a main factor in determining whether a snack will be consumed or not. According to Southern of B&R Classics, “Taste remains king and consumers are not willing to sacrifice taste for health or convenience.” To help consumers find their way to the perfect tasty and healthy snack, retailers should offer samples or have a taste-testing event to give customers a chance to get to know what flavors are available to them.

Because taste is such a driving force in the snacks category, Waldner believes “the healthy snacks industry should continue to focus more on delivering great taste with products that are also healthy for our bodies and the planet.” In addition, notes Andrew, “There are far more sweet portable options than savory, which we think is a great area to improve upon.”

Kids. A major challenge for parents is to successfully feed their children healthy food. An equally large test is for kids to like the healthy food their parents give them. This all becomes particularly difficult when considering the constantly on-the-go lifestyles of most kids today, which without a doubt requires some snacking. Fortunately, healthy “snack pack” products make it easier for kids to stick to a healthy diet and make lunch box packing much easier on parents.

Dawes of Late July Organic Snacks, says, “For our snacks, I use the lunchbox test. I test new ideas in my sons’ lunch boxes. If they come home uneaten two days in a row, they’re off the list. If they’re begging for more, I know we’re on to something. Parents want nutritious, organic snacks for their kids, but it’s critical that their kids find them delicious.” The company offers a full line of organic, single serve snacks including crackers and cookies.

One interesting innovation is the use of fish oil in kid’s products. No child would be excited about eating a fish oil snack, but when cleverly disguised as chocolate drizzle over a tasty treat, as in Dr. Sear’s Popumz, kids will be lining up to snack on a healthy intake of omega-3s. Terry Howell, vice president of product development of Dr. Sears America’s Pediatrician, Irvine, CA, says, “Our Popumz whole grain organic snack is nutritionally balanced to support the energy and growth needs of children and adults and is fortified with 32 mg EPA and DHA (MEG-3). For a developing child, anything we can do to increase their intake of these essential fatty acids can have immediate and lifelong health benefits.” The snacks, which are also high in protein and come in various flavors, are available as individual 1 oz. grab-and-go bags or in five-pack Lunch Box Essentials (five 1 oz. bags).

Teens. Healthy snacking for teens is also extremely important, as most teens are participating in more extra-curricular activities than ever and need to have their brains sharp for academic work. As teens become more independent, parents begin to have less control over what their teens eat during and after school. If tasty snack options are available that fit in with teens’ busy social and academic schedules, they will more likely continue to have healthy eating habits throughout their lifetime. For teens, however, convenience is key. “We find that teens especially like bars for their portability in the backpack,” notes Aussie. “Bars rich in whole food ingredients, like our Honest Foods Baked Whole Food Bars, as well as real food trail mixes for their balance of salty and sweet flavors, are excellent choices.”

Seniors. Consumers age 55 and over are an overlooked asset to the snacking industry. “Snacks for the older population group need to cater to the lifestyle of people likely affected by conditions such as cholesterol and high blood pressure,” notes Southern, using Joseph Banks Cassava Root Vegetable Chips as an ideal example. In comparison to conventional potato chips, these crispy and light cassava chips boast lower fat, lower sodium, high fiber, no gluten and a delicious taste. Many seniors with limited mobility who need more time to prepare for their day will also appreciate having a quick, portable snack available to them to eat at home or while on an outing.

Special Diets
Consumers with special dietary concerns such as allergies or intolerances often have an especially difficult time finding an appropriate snack. Many companies are beginning to realize that sensitive diets don’t stay at home, they are also on the move, tagging along with consumers afflicted all day long, thus requiring the creation of on-the-go snacks for sensitive diets. Smulders notes that “allergy sufferers would be very happy to have more snack options. Nut free, gluten free and dairy free snacks are a much needed area,” on which his business, Bakery on Main, focuses primarily.

Purity Foods, Inc. also offers Whole Grain Spelt Sesame Sticks, a line of spelt pretzels and organic spelt granola. Spelt has been said to be easier on the digestive system and may provide some relief for those suffering from Crohn’s Disease and gluten intolerances. Nature’s Path also offers organic, gluten-free and vegetarian Vanilla Animal Cookies for kids and vegetarian Garden Veggie Signature Series Crackers.

In addition, consumers wishing to restrict their carbohydrate intake should try the line of low-carb organic and natural tortilla chip snacks from Bien Padre Foods, Eureka, CA.

Ready, set, go! WF

1. J. Challem. The Food-Mood Solution. (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2007).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2009