Snack Industry Pursues New Ingredients, Combinations and Satiety

Snacks show rapid evolution from simple predictable products with nutritionally empty sources. This includes corn, potato and rice flours to uncommon combinations, plant-protein rich ingredient and uncommon ingredients that have only enjoyed limited exposure outside of small-scale applications.  Protein, nutritive density and probiotics all stake a claim on package claims and even clean label facts panels.

According to a Mintel report released last year, half of U.S. consumers believe they should be eating more protein. The majority also consider plant-based proteins, in particular, to be inherently healthy. Mintel found that including plant-based proteins is a way to signal that a snack food is providing high-quality nutrition. In fact, protein claims were present in 20% of 2017’s savory snack launches, up from 16% the prior year.

But it’s not just protein that is making headway in the rapidly growing snack space. Take, for example, Vegan Rob’s chips and puffs lines which contain ingredients like turmeric and probiotics. Wai Lana Cassava Chips also offer a turmeric version. In sweet snacks, Amplify Snack Brands’ Oatmega bars and cookies contain omega-3s from three types of fish oil “to support heart health,” as well as high amounts of protein from whey and milk protein concentrates.

Legumes, pulses, beans are also quickly going from niche ingredients to center stage in health snacks. Chickpeas are represented by Hippeas Organic Chickpea Puffs and Biena Chickpea Snacks, while Snapea Crisps and Peeled Snacks Pea Puffs both feature peas. Calbee Harvest Snaps are available in both pea and black bean versions. It’s easy to find legume snacks in traditional savory snack flavors such as cheese, ranch, barbeque, and sriracha. Legume blends have also been successful. World Peas Peatos and Supereats Puffs both use a blend of peas and lentils.

Frito-Lay’s Off the Eaten Path brand offers Veggie Crisps with peas and black beans, in addition to its Hummus Crisps made with chickpeas. In many cases, legume snacks are actually blends of legumes and grains, especially rice.  Cassava, a root vegetable similar to the potato, has also made its presence known this year. Cassava snacks include Wai Lana’s Cassava Chips and Pops, Plant Snacks Cassava Root Chips, and NOVA CRISP Cassava Chips.

In the sweet snack space, evolution is also apparent.  “Snackfections” has emerged as a term coined by the Hershey Company to describe a new hybrid category that combines traditional confections with snacks. Several confection companies have pursued product innovation in this area in response to slowing growth in confections, with impressive success. Examples include Hershey’s Kit Kat Snack Mix and Mars’ M&M’s Sweet & Salty Snack Mix. Nestlé released a Sweet & Salty Snack mix for three of its confection brands—Butterfinger, Raisinets, and Buncha Crunch.  Snackfections often blend chocolate with nuts, seeds, fruits, cookie pieces, or pretzels, which can be combined in a variety of ways beyond snack mixes. An example of this is Reese’s Crunchers, which are poppable bites of peanut butter chips, rice puffs, and peanuts, covered in chocolate, and packed in a resealable pouch. Snackfections also provide an opportunity for snack companies to incorporate a little indulgence, especially via chocolate, into their products.  Examples of legume snacks that added a snackfection to their product lines include Biena (Thin Mints Chickpea Snacks), Greenwave Foods (Eda-Zen Premium Toasted Black Edamame in Dark Chocolate), and Saffron Road (Crunchy Chickpeas in Dark Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Chai).

A new type of snack mix gaining traction is two-in-one snacks, such as Kellogg’s Cheez-It Duoz. One variety of Cheez-It Duoz contains caramel popcorn and cheddar crackers, which provides a sweet-savory flavor combination, as well as two distinct textures. Calbee’s Popper Duos combine two flavors of puffs in one bag. Available in combinations like BBQ & Ranch and Zesty Queso (which combines cheddar with salsa), Popper Duos can be eaten individually or combined to provide multiple flavor options, according to the company. The Popcorn Factory’s Kettle Krave Popcorn also offers two flavors in one bag, in combinations that include maple with bacon, honey with barbecue, and peanut butter with jelly.

While flavor and new combinations of sweet and savory may not surprise those with a close eye on the snack space, innovative ingredients are making inroads as well.  Sprouted mung beans and lotus root crisps are among new formats competing for shelf space in the supermarket snack aisle. Puffed quinoa is popping up in chocolate bars, portabella mushrooms are masquerading as meat jerky, and cauliflower is replacing grains in pretzels and tortilla chips.

Going meatless in snacks also showing upward trending – plant, soy and meat/dairy-free protein alternatives are becoming more mainstream. The upward trajectory of plant-based diets is driven by health and sustainability concerns. KIND 2019 forecast expects more innovation highlighting nuts, extruded seeds, beans, water lentils in categories across snack bars, chips, meat-free burgers and dairy-free yogurts and cheeses.

Bars Grow Beyond Simple Convenience

This category is highly impacted by function and flavor:  nutrition bars with clean labels are on the rise. Bars are one of the best functional and convenient foods in the market today in the snacking industry as they can deliver strong nutritional profiles.

The Institute of Food Technologists defines functional food as having “specific nutrients added to it, like vitamins or minerals, fiber, or probiotics or prebiotics. In general, this includes anything added for a specific functional purpose.”  Some benefits consumers are demanding were noted in I.R.I.’s 2018 U.S. Snacking Survey and include the following: 65% of consumers want an energy boost, which is often obtained by consuming protein; 53% want fruits and vegetables for specific nutrients; and 40% want snacks with probiotics for digestive health.

The top functional bar ingredient right now is protein, which may be found in the nutritional and performance categories appealing to a wide audience that includes children. The main consumers of bars include not only athletes but also those looking for a wholesome meal without the stress of the kitchen, according to the study, Protein Bar Market – Segmented by Type, Source, End Product and Geography (2018-2023) conducted by Mordor Intelligence. 

These consumers prefer protein bars to assist with weight management, improved muscle mass and increased energy.

The report also noted a high demand for innovative products with natural ingredients and without allergens. The proteins found in nutritional bars have typically consisted of whey, collagen, nuts or soy, but this list is expanding.

Consumers who prefer clean label will be more comfortable seeing some type of plant-based protein in a bar. To get the most out of bars, consumers want less ingredients that don’t have the functional qualities or might impede the benefits of functional ingredients.

Snacks that are gluten-free, non-G.M.O., free from artificial flavors and colors, and contain less preservatives are doing well. And no sugar – the second most influential factor in purchasing cereal and energy bars in the U.S. in 2017 was no/low/reduced sugar, Innova found. However, if a bar includes sugar, consumers seem to accept it if it’s natural — the number one quality found in Innova’s consumer study.

Clean label formulating is a good overall rule snack companies can follow when leaving out nonfunctional ingredients. All-natural ingredients that consumers understand are in demand for this category.
Want to learn more? If you’d like to talk about adding trendy, healthy, and nutritious ingredients to your snack formulation, Firebird is ready to help. Contact us today for a consultation. Give us a call at 701-324-4330 or email us at