Snacking around the world was already a rapidly increasing behaviour, but during the COVID-19 pandemic there has been an increase in snacking as consumers are spending more time at home.

According to the most recent State of the Industry Report from the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), snack foods growth of 4.1 per cent was the strongest in the last three years after a slight increase of 0.7 per cent in 2018.

Leading the growth were ‘better for you’ snacks, now accounting for more than half of the snacks category, growing from a share of 45 per cent to 51 per cent.

Snacks are becoming more about purpose for consumers, who are thinking about how they can improve their health and wellbeing with the next bite.

During the pandemic, consumers have seen snacking as an important source of comfort, connection and community. But as the trend towards smaller and more frequent snacks over eating regular larger meals increases, so too has the focus on healthy products and ingredients.

Mondelēz International’s second annual global State of Snacking study, which looks into the $1.2 trillion total global snack category, found that more than half of global adults (54 per cent) have relied on snacks for nourishment during the pandemic. And of those, 64 per cent said that snacks have been nourishing to their body, mind and soul during these strange times.

A majority are also more mindful when snacking at home, with 57 per cent saying they are more focused on the snacks that they eat, and 66 per cent highlighted that they have more control over the portions they eat because they are snacking at home.

Planting the seed

Australians have always been a fairly health-conscious market, so it’s no surprise that there’s a growing demand for high-quality, plant-based ‘superfood’ snacks. 

Purabon, which is riding the health and wellness wave with a range of popular snack products, says that visibility in such an on-trend category is critical. Purabon’s leading healthy snack products are its protein balls, which include salted caramel, peanut butter, and choc brownie flavours.

“Purabon is the fastest growing healthy snack brand in Australia,” says Sales Director, Kerin O’Brien.

“We have more than doubled our stockists over the last year and we are contacted daily by new retailers wanting to stock Purabon.”

In terms of consumers, Purabon has noticed that it is the millennial and Gen Z shopper who is increasingly seeking out plant-based snacks.

“Consumers are opting in to buy foods that contain healthy ingredients, which is exactly what Purabon stands for ‘pure and good’ deliciously healthy snacks.

“All Purabon products are plant-based and appeal to the new growing consumer group,” says O’Brien.

Another Australian-made, plant-based snack that has been making waves in 2020 is Mt. Elephant, which launched in September and has already gained ranging in more than 400 independent grocery, health food and convenience stores nationally.

Mt. Elephant has also just been ranged through 7-Eleven stores, a deal that is expecting annual sales volumes between $1m to $1.4m.

Neale Joseph, Managing Director and CEO of Australian Primary Hemp, a producer, manufacturer and distributor of premium plant-based health and wellness products including Mt. Elephant, says: “Consumers today are already educated about the benefits of plant-based nutrition and are seeking high-quality products that they can eat every day.

“Like many superfoods, the average person may not know all the amazing benefits of hemp – but it’s a nutritionally dense source of Omega-3 and -6, Magnesium, and Gamma Linoleic acids.

“Our product development team ensured that every Mt. Elephant product optimised the benefits of hemp while creating something extremely delicious.

There is still a huge opportunity to introduce many Australians to hemp as a superfood; making a seed-and-nut snack bar a simple and easy way to try it.

And while not new, consumers still seek out Australian made products and expect Australian made products to be of premium quality.”

Convenience is still king

Combining food and traditional health products/benefits was not long ago an emerging functional food trend but is now well entrenched as a necessary retail offering having overtaken traditional snacking options. But while health is an increasingly important factor for consumers, convenience is still king.

According to AACS; nuts, jerky and rice snacks delivered the highest percentage of growth at 8.5 per cent, however chips delivered the greatest value contribution with 80.4 per cent dollar share of the total snacking category.

It’s for these reasons that it should come as no surprise to see that veggie chips have been gaining popularity.

Steve Trinder, Director of Tribeca Health, has recently launched his X50 veggie chips and Veego protein snack range through the convenience and impulse channel, and has already seen a 700 per cent increase in year to date sales.

“This channel is really embracing the need to offer snacks with benefits so consumers can make fast health conscious choices in their on-the-go lifestyles. Our X50 Broccoli Chip, Cauliflower and Mushroom Chips along with the Veego Plant Protein Bars are being so well received as they meet the needs of consumers in terms of taste, health and aesthetics,” says Trindal.

“I think the opportunities will present themselves more as stores start to recognise that the growth in healthy snacking is a movement and not a fad. They will open up more space on shelves, as healthy snacking is a double-digit growth area, where other categories like confectionary have been stagnant for years.

“It’s all about changing the mindset of the buyers, that people are actually looking in their stores for these type of healthy products and that the market for healthy snacking is growing and sustainable.

“It’s a great opportunity for specialist brands like ourselves to gain market share before the larger corporates see the category as an opportunity to change their product offerings to capitalise on the growth in healthy snacking, and utilise their considerable C&I channel relationships to take market share.

“But I think consumers are wise to that these days, they want to buy products from the experts that led the way, not from big brads that jump on the wagon to take a slice of the pie purely for profiting purposes and to add to their bottom line.”

Protein power

Sports nutrition has seen higher current value growth in 2020 than was seen in 2019, despite the impact of COVID, and indeed is set to see the fastest growth within consumer health.

Active lifestyles have long been extremely popular amongst the Australian population, and there remains a general focus in Australian society on remaining fit and active into middle age, and in many cases into old age.

As such, there has been an increase in the consumption of sports nutrition, with protein and energy bars seeing the strongest growth in 2020.

Ross Webb, Brand and Partnership Manager at Vitaco, says that the growth in protein bars is expected to continue.

“Sports protein bars are expected to remain the fastest growing category as such products continue to gain relevance and are now attracting younger consumers,” he said.

“It is younger generations of Australians who are the keenest on regular intensive fitness training as part of a very active lifestyle. In recent years it has become even more common for young people to work even harder on developing their physique. Indeed, a recent study, published in the journal BMC Paediatrics in February 2020, found that 50 per cent of Australian boys aged 14-16 are using muscle-building protein supplements. The research indicates that this age group is becoming more focused on body image, and in particular on achieving a slim, muscular and attractive physique.

“Musashi brand continues to benefit from its rebranding and its partnership with different athletes, which have provided the brand with better visibility among a broader consumer audience. Previously the brand was very well established among gym-goers and serious body-builders, but with new brand ambassadors from basketball, football, AFL, NRL and mixed martial arts, the brand has been able to consumers across many sports with its range.”

How can retailers increase awareness of healthy snacks?

To answer this million dollar question, retailers need to be open to change and willing to create space for a relatively new but growing category.

“It’s a difficult balance for retailers as they are so used the old staple categories, but my advice is if you get the right products in and open up to healthy snacking, the customers and repeat business will be there.

“Consumers are genuinely intrigued by innovation and new products in the health snack category. Packaging aesthetics play an important role too. Consumers want to not only look and feel good but eat amazing tasting food. We have so many new products in the pipeline and can’t wait until 2021. There is one new product in particular that may just revolutionise an all-time favourite high sugar snack – think guilt free indulgence, but we better keep that under wraps for now though,” says Trinder.

Purabon’s O’Brien agrees, and says a key driver of growth would be to ensure retailers have a solid range of clearly labelled healthy snack options.

“In order to increase the performance of the healthy snack category in-store, retailers should offer clean label healthy ingredient snacks such as Purabon,” says O’Brien.

Trinder also suggests that retailers offer in-store tastings, as the age-old saying goes, the most important part of building a brand is getting the product in the mouths of consumers.

“Once people touch, feel and taste our products and get a base knowledge of them we generally have that customer as part of the family for a long time,” he says.

“Stores and brands should do more around in-store taste testing so consumers can see that the healthy snacks these days taste so much better than in the past and hopefully it blows away any pre-conceived notions they have and convert the customer over to healthier options.

“The healthy snacking trend is not going away, it will only grow as more people realise the only real thing we have complete control over in our lives is our bodies and health and what we put into them. Healthy snacking will be the category that brings growth into convenience stores.”

*Convenience & Impulse Retailing would like to thank Purabon, Vitaco, Tribeca Health and Australian Primary Hemp for supplying information for this article, which originally appeared in the December/January magazine.

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