Healthy snack category maintains momentum in Australia

Healthy snacking is a trend that continues to grow in Australia, as consumers become more aware of what is beneficial in a product and what to avoid, they are actively seeking out products that won’t just tide them over until mealtime but will provide nourishment and sustenance.

This expectation that a snack needs to provide consumers with health benefits has led a change in the way brands sell their products, as it is no longer good enough to simply just be tasty, they must also provide nutritional value.

Data from the AACS State of Industry Half Year Report 2022 showed that the snackfoods category maintained its strong momentum of the past two years, backing up 14.3 per cent growth in 2021 with growth of 3.4 per cent in the first half of 2022.

The petrol and convenience (P&C) channel has always been a strong avenue for the sale of snacks, and now as consumers are becoming more health-conscious, the channel must continue to update its retail offer to include these in-demand products.

One brand reaping the benefits of the increasingly health-conscious population is Snackinar, which produces dried meat snacks. Michael Hearne, Founder of Snackinar, believes Australians are increasingly on the lookout for healthy meat-based products.

“Some of the best market research that can be done to understand emerging trends simply comes down to looking at what everyone is Googling. For the past 12 months, Google search data shows Australians have been more interested in a meat-eating diet (carnivore diet) than a vegan diet. Five years ago, interest in the vegan diet was much higher than carnivore.”

Hearne believes that retailers are still behind the eight ball when it comes to stocking natural food products that align with the carnivore diet.

“Thus, we see great opportunities for our newly upgraded Beef Strips, which perfectly align with the carnivore diet. Along with being minimally processed, it’s important to note our products are free from the seed oils and other questionable ingredients our competitors use to make cheap imitations of our products.”

Although Hearne said that convincing retailers to stock a health food product made from real natural meat has proved difficult.

“However, as more consumers demand natural convenience food that’s minimally processed without seed oils, sugars, and other questionable ingredients, it seems inevitable convenience, grocery, and health food retailers and distributors will carry Snackinar products.”

Riding the wave

Lisa Schilling-Thomson, National Sales Manager at Halo Food Co, producers of Tonik protein bars, says that Australian consumers are educated and discerning.

“They are actively looking for products with less sugar, no added sugar, all natural, no artificial additives, GMO free, gluten free, and are functional to living a healthier life.”

Tonik bars were only launched in P&C in August this year, so for Schilling-Thomson it has been a learning curve, but the decision has been worth it.

“Tonik was conceptualised and developed specifically with the P&C shopper in mind. Protein bars started to trend and really grow within the P&C channel back in 2016 when I was Sales Director launching Crankt Protein into the market.

“Prior to 2016, the category was highly underdeveloped, the only brands really in the Australian market were Musashi and Aussie Bodies, the ‘better-for-you’ category was mostly made up of muesli bars and the like, products not particularly good for you, and full of sugar.”

The immediate and fast growth of Tonik’s range of plant-based protein bars, which were only released in Coles in April, has surprised Schilling-Thomson.

“The plant bar sales at Coles have been staggering. Also, every banner group I have met with in the past three months has taken into range one or two of our plant bars. Even diehard whey protein consumers are loving our plant bars, which have historically tasted pretty average, our Choc Fudge plant bar is unbelievable.”

Another plant-based snack is Purabon, which has also recently expanded its range to include bars. A choice Kerin O’Brien, Sales Director at Purabon, said is all about inspiring consumers to see delicious yet healthy alternatives.

“Our family creates nutritious whole food plant-based snacks. We don’t compromise on taste. After being a market leader in food service balls for the past five years, we’ve now diversified into bars. With a new range of Peanut Butter bars made of Australian peanuts and featuring 150 calories they make the perfect snack in three delicious flavours; Caramel Peanut Butter, Choc Chip Peanut Butter, and Peanut Butter and Jelly.”

Taste is one of, if not the most, important factor for all companies and Ross Webb, Brands and Partnerships Manager at Musashi, said that consumers are now seeking all the traditional benefits of protein bars combined with the taste experience that confectionery products offer.

“This has forced many sports nutrition brands to become very inventive with new products with a large focus on taste as the main driver. Functional benefits remain a priority for consumers as they remain conscious of selecting low sugar, better-for-you options. As the category begins to broaden, we are also seeing consumers seeking other snacking formats like protein cookies.”

Skye Jackson, General Manager Merchandise at Ampol, said at Ampol they’ve noticed a strong alignment from their shoppers to trusted brands.

“Prioritising local ingredients and companies, sees suppliers such as Barbell entering the P&C channel, which meets this shopper profile.

“Customers will not compromise on flavour or quality when electing to pick up a healthy snack, so there is more focus on items like low sugar versus no sugar, or a balanced formulation rather than a ‘free from’ of years past.”

Traditionally for Musashi, its strongest performing product is its high protein bars, which offer 45g of protein per bar.

“As many new consumers enter the category, more indulgent style protein bars and other protein snacks like cookies are experiencing significant growth due to the comparable taste and texture experience that confectionery offers, without all the nasties.

“Musashi’s newest protein bar, Protein Crisp, has been the brand’s strongest performer as it still has all the functional benefits while offering a unique taste and texture experience. This bar has driven double digit growth for the brand with the majority of the sales being incremental to the category,” explained Webb.

Ben Faulkhead, Category Manager at APCO, echoes Webb’s sentiment that products featuring higher protein are proving popular.

“We certainly are seeing a strong increase in sales for those products that feature increased levels of protein while low-carb options have declined.”

Faulkhead said that healthy snacks have really evolved over the past few years, and as a retailer, they are tapping into this potential.

“We have introduced a number of grab-and-go options to complement our food offering including crackers, veggie sticks and dip packs, and fruit salad but we have also expanded our range of bars to include protein balls and protein and muesli bars.

“We have seen large unit increases from brands such as My Muscle Chef and Musashi. We believe that there is a large untapped potential here to bundle healthy snacking with both food and beverage offers.”

A new market

Articulating to consumers that these healthy products are for everyone and no longer just for the serious gym goer, is a challenge Webb and Musashi are facing head on.

“Musashi is focused on communicating and educating the benefits these products can provide to everyday people looking to place a focus on making smarter nutrition decisions.”

The importance of P&C due to its high visibility means that the channel has become a priority for many of the leading health snack brands, and Webb says the ability to secure visibility in-store, coupled with continuous foot traffic, has enabled the category to experience significant growth.

“New consumers into the category are seeking convenient, low-cost products and quite often these products are unplanned purchases.

“The P&C channel allows Musashi to have a much stronger connection with our target audience, with tradespeople over indexing strongly with sports, energy, and active nutrition products.”

From a retailer perspective, Jackson points to three key drivers when deciding which healthy snacks to range at Ampol.

“Product overlap; demand for format based on customer profile and/or shopper mission; and where the snack sits in regard to daily macros or protein intake.”

Hearne makes the point that Snackinar’s value is based on its nutritional value and convenience, and that means the P&C channel is pivotal to the convenience aspect of that.

“Buying snacks from Amazon and waiting a week is not convenient, thus, convenience and independent grocery stores are extremely important. Many people assume health food stores would be important, and they should be, however, health food stores in Australia are still almost exclusively selling highly processed plant-based food products.”

This article was written for the December/January issue of C&I Retailing magazine.

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