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Canadian consumers are serious about snacks, looking for more than just a quick treat in the middle of a busy day.
With the upending of the traditional three meals a day routine, the shifting of wellness and culinary trends and a growing accessibility to food, the act of snacking has taken on a new role in people’s daily lives, says Neysa Davies, senior marketing insights manager, Tree of Life Canada.
“This modern era of snackified eating drives our food choices and is reflected in our grocery lists,” says Davies.
Consumers have been looking for functional foods for quite some time, says Kristin Valles, national category manager, Core-Mark International.
“They are not simply looking to satisfy a craving,” says Valles. “They also want to increase their protein intake, or detox, or increase their energy. They are looking for multi-fuel products with clean ingredients that will better their bodies while tasting great.”
Consumers are very aware of what they are putting into their bodies, says Valles.
“Options like whole nuts, dried fruits, and organic products are snacking opportunities they are looking for,” says Valles. “Cross merchandising is important. Having the right mix of products for your demographic between flavour profiles and attributes, such as high protein or antioxidant, is important. While some customers might be simply looking for a pick-me-up, others may be looking for their pre-gym snack or meal replacement option. Having secondary displays near beverages, like coffee, or near the cooler doors, is important to capitalize on impulsivity.”
Core-Mark’s Under Counter program has a variety of healthy bar and jerky options in addition to candy, gum and chocolate on it to ensure that customers see the product and may decide to add it to their basket of goods for immediate or future consumption, says Valles.
“Power Bar, Pure Protein and Vector were some of the original big brand protein bars,” notes Valles. “Over the last few years KIND and Clif have truly ignited the category, as seen with the recent introduction of Kashi JOI bars. Customers are reaching less for the bag of chips and more for the bag of nuts or trail mix.”
All types of consumers frequent convenience stores and all have different needs and requirements, says Valles.
“It is no longer just the health-conscious gym frequenter reaching for a protein bar or shake,” she notes. “It’s the mom-on-the-go, the construction worker, or the individuals adjusting their diets. Convenience stores continue to have a need to satisfy an array of customers.”
The trend towards sweet and salty has been a key factor in snack flavours, with ethnic profiles also coming more into play, says Valles.
“The rise of popcorn in mixed formats with pretzels and chocolate, and the increase in kettle corn and Chicago mix certainly reinforces this trend,” comments Valles. “Many confectionery companies are creating mixed products featuring their legacy brands with nuts and pretzels to capitalize on this trend. Ultimately, the customer wants to have a snacking experience that leaves them feeling full, however, that doesn’t mean we don’t still have our indulgent moments, reaching for a chocolate bar, cookie or bag of chips.”
Jerky products are another area of growth with consumers looking for high protein snacks, says Valles.
“The flavour profiles and product textures have been adjusted to suit the pallet of both males and females,” notes Valles. “Recently, the introduction of Coconut Jerky came into play to allow those who may not consume or always want to consume meat products to have an alternate option available.”
Vegan is a big trend right now, says Janice Harada, marketing manager, MadeGood Foods, known for allergy friendly snacks that contain a serving of vegetables in each snack. MadeGood recently introduced two new products: Soft Baked Mini Cookies and Crispy Light Granola.
“People are really interested in vegetable protein either because of values or just to be that little bit healthier,” says Harada. “Even people who still eat meat are trying to incorporate more vegetables and vegetable protein into their diets.”
Consumers are still looking for taste, says Harada, noting that more people are snacking throughout the day instead of sitting down to three big meals.
“Everybody wants to be healthy but nobody is willing to sacrifice on taste,” says Harada. “Sometimes people don’t know how to interpret the nutritional facts table but they know if it’s a simple list of ingredients. People look at how much sugar, fat and how many calories a product has. I think that in the past in convenience stores, there’s been a heavy emphasis on confectionery, candy, and salty snacks but more people are looking for something a bit healthier. Having a better-for-you section will attract some attention in a convenience store where there aren’t as many options for customers who are looking for healthier grab and go products. There’s hardly anything in convenience that is organic and lots of people are looking for organic as it has become more mainstream. People are also looking for snacks that are free of the top allergens. I think having a section where people will know healthier options are available would increase sales overall.”
More and more people are becoming vegetarian for various reasons, says Eric Jackalin, business development manager, Western Canada, Marsham International Food Brokers.
“There are certain trends and we are all seeing them and taking note of them,” says Jackalin. “The whole health and lifestyle market for bars has been growing over 30 per cent annually for the past five years, which is incredible. We’re very fortunate at Marsham that we represent a lot of market leading natural organic, good-for-you products. Clif has launched a new nut butter filled bar and we’re in the process of introducing whey protein bars from Clif that have 14 grams of protein and only five grams of sugar. We just launched three flavours in Canada: peanut butter chocolate, salted caramel cashew, and coconut almond chocolate.”
Kettle has released potato chips cooked in avocado oil, which Jackalin says are resonating well with consumers because they are lower in fat and “taste amazing.” Marsham also launched a new beverage, CoCo5, this year, which is a natural coconut-based product.
Natural, organic products typically produce a higher return for the retailer, notes Jackalin.
“The most progressive retailers are stocking these products and are always on the lookout for what’s new and what’s available in this category because they can charge a little bit more and make a bit higher margin as the consumer is willing to pay more for a product that is natural, organic, gluten-free and non-GMO,” states Jackalin. “So, it’s in the retailer’s best interest, plus their customers are looking for these products. More and more, people are reading ingredients and when they see things they can’t pronounce, it makes them question whether they want to eat it. People are also checking for things like fat, sugar or sodium content.”
Consumers are looking for better-for-you snacks, says John Tivadar, senior brand manager, Natural Products, Cyba Stevens Management Group.
“According to Nielsen, salty snacks in general are up 14 per cent while better-for-you salty snacks are up in sales 46 per cent,” notes Tivadar. “There are a number of categories that have crossed over to convenience, like KIND bars, the kombucha brand Bucha, and numerous offerings in salty snacks. If C & G stores merchandise brands like this in their stores, many customers will choose them over conventional ones. Create a better-for-you section in your chip aisle so it is easily visible for the customer. Use good signage that calls out the natural products. Make them easy to find, located close to the till.”
Spokes Air-Puffed Potato Snacks is a new gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan salty snack product that has attracted the attention of convenience stores and their customers, notes Tivadar. Left Field Foods recently received an award in the Savoury Snack category at the 25th Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards for this Spokes product.
“A couple of years ago, you would not have found many natural products in C&G, but the trend is moving that way in conventional grocery and C&G chains are starting to recognize that they need to do so as well to stay relevant,” states Tivadar. “I think we are going to see more healthier snacks and beverages become available in the convenience channel. The consumer is asking for them. If they are buying them in their grocery cart each week, they want to be able to pick them up in the grab and go format when they are in convenience stores as well.”
People are realizing, as they try new, healthier products, that they don’t need snacks that are high in sugar, says Peter Neal, co-owner Neal Brothers Foods, which makes their own products as well as acting as a distributor for other brands.
“People are looking for a snack or beverage they can get on the go that’s going to deliver something for them,” says Neal. “Taste has to be there but people can now look at the nutritional table that wasn’t there 20 years ago and didn’t understand 10 years ago and now have a better understanding of what they are eating. La Croix sparkling water, for example, doesn’t have any sugar in it and it is refreshing and tasty. We look for products that are better sourced by good companies with good values that also hit a price point. The bottom line is a good product that is really tasty at a good price that is healthier than what has traditionally been on the market. For example, we have an organic sesame snack that is made with black and white organic sesame seeds and sweetened with a small amount of coconut sugar. We have a crunchy lentil product that is coming up that everyone in our office can’t stop consuming because it tastes go good.”
Healthy snacking is not going to slow down in popularity, says Neal.
“The numbers continue to grow within natural organic and I think we will continue to see more innovation, better pricing and better offerings,” says Neal. “If convenience stores could understand what the rest of retail has figured out, that items within this category of natural organic have been growing at mid-teen rate every year versus the one-and-a-half or two-and-a-half per cent of more traditional brands, they might consider giving four square feet of store space to a section that is understood and well communicated to be a decent range of healthier grab and go snacks. This would bring in five or 10 per cent more customers and provide a higher margin or penny profit on the $3 organic granola bar versus the $1.99 granola bar.”
People want something that will fill them up, taste good and also provide something functional that will be good for their bodies, comments Neal.
As consumers continue to educate themselves on the types of products they are putting into their bodies, there will likely be a trend towards different types of proteins, different mediums and taste profiles, continuing towards functional properties like antioxidants, notes Valles.
“Competition has already increased and it will be up to the consumer to determine what will land in convenience and what may remain specialty,” states Valles.
Keep Calm and Snack On Neysa Davies, senior marketing insights manager with Tree of Life Canada provides the following information on how snacks are now viewed as fulfilling three primary tasks:
Nourishment – delivery of daily sustenance, long-term nutrition
Optimization – Helps one to fulfill physical and mental performance demands.
Pleasure – Fulfills emotional desires for enjoyment, craving and comfort.
Keep these consumer motivations in mind as you build your retail strategy for healthy snacking, notes Davies.
“Snacking is no longer the simplistic and routine category that it once was; adapt your on-shelf assortment to aid your consumers in meeting their healthy aspirations.”
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