The healthy snacking trend continues to grow within Australia, with more and more consumers no longer seeing snacks as a way to simply tide them over until mealtime, but as a means to provide them with nutritional benefits.

Consumers have a greater understanding of what is beneficial in a product and what to avoid. We have seen this reflected in the way brands sell their products, it is no longer good enough to just be tasty, there is an expectation that a snack must also provide some kind of health benefit.

This expectation of a product to not only provide nourishment but nutritional value, means the petrol and convenience (P&C) channel must continue to update its retail offer to include these healthy snacks.

Theo Foukkare, CEO, Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) said healthy snacking has experienced good growth over the last three years, however it experienced some challenges as consumers during lockdown found comfort in traditional and guilty comfort foods.

“COVID-19 in 2020 was the worst thing that could have happened for healthy anything for a lot of consumers. Guilty pleasures increased, whether it was chips, beverages, ice cream, or alcohol, to name just a few. It was like a bad day every day, so what better to do than eat junk!

“Thankfully there are now renewed freedoms in most states, consumers are well and truly adopting their normal healthy habits again; more exercise, better eating habits, portion control and being selective again with what they consume. Thankfully the initial ‘shock’ factor is well and truly over, and we can all get on with the new normal for now.”

The health hit

Australia has always been a health-conscious market and the previous year, while difficult for many brands, saw some experience growth within the category despite COVID restricting movements and many people opting for guilty pleasures.

Snackinar, an emerging brand within the dried meat category, saw sales revenue grow 76 per cent during the first half of 2021, compared to the previous six months. It also saw 60 per cent of total sales from July to September come from Western Australia, with COVID having a definite impact on sales on the east coast.

Michael Hearne, Founder, Snackinar, said that he believes there is great potential for his product to grow due to it containing zero sugar, a stark difference to what is currently available.

“Beef jerky hasn’t become as popular in Australia as the US or UK, despite it being sold in every supermarket, petrol station and bottle shop. Australians just don’t have the sweet tooth the average American consumer has. Even some of the organic jerky being sold here has 25 per cent sugar. Australians don’t want high sugar content.”

Currently, the projection for Snackinar in the second half of 2021 is for sales revenue to grow over 100 per cent compared to the first half of 2021.

Steve Trinder, Director of Tribeca Brands, said that its high protein Mars and Snickers bars jumped 22 per cent nationally, while the entirety of its chip range increased by 17 per cent, showing no effect from the lockdowns across Victoria and NSW.

“More people are moving into that healthy snacking space and becoming more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies and what ingredients are in products like fake sugars and preservatives.”

Its flagship X50 chip range, which includes broccoli, cauliflower and mushroom chips has recorded a growth of 17 per cent nationwide and Trinder expects to see these types of healthy products become the new norm for people looking to purchase chips.

“The X50 range is currently in the health food section, but I think the way that the category is trending over the next couple of years, the more commercial potato chip section is going to see these sorts of products start to flow in and be mainstays in that chip category,” said Trinder.

Foukkare, AACS, is also of the belief that there is now a consumer expectation that there should be healthy options across the entire range.

“The main trends evident in healthy snacking, is that it is not just about better for you in some categories, there is now a consumer expectation that there should be options for them in all categories. There really are some amazing products available today that only a small portion of Australians are enjoying, and I know that once more people try them, they will convert.”

Kerin O’Brien, co-owner of Purabon, whose most popular products are a range of plant-based protein balls, said he would like to see healthy snacking become more normalised and added to the more traditional snacking options like chips and chocolate.

“Customers are now not really saying ‘that’s health food’ and ‘that’s not health food’, but all these things are delicious. I’d like to see a more normalisation of the category. It’s all food.”

O’Brien also believes there is a strong shift towards consumers purchasing plant-based products not only for their health but also for the wellbeing of the planet.

“I think what we’re seeing is the popularity of plant-based snacks pushing out the products that have got animal proteins in them. Over the past couple of years people have moved from vegan products being very niche for a very small market to more people accepting plant-based, which they see as having a greater impact on protecting the environment.”

The growth of the sector has seen new business opportunities arise. One such business is nuTree, a health food supplier that aims to provide retailers with ease of access to the best performing products in the ‘better for you’ sector. Through its market research, nuTree has identified the top performing products and offers retailers the opportunity to purchase a wide range of brands directly through a single supplier.

Founder of nuTree Ryan Price, believes the ‘better for you’ market can still perform considerably stronger than what it currently is by engaging the consumer before they walk in the door. According to the AACS 2020 State of Industry Report, there are 3.2 million transactions in the channel daily.

“The opportunity to start converting the healthy consumer to want to shop in the channel, outside of filling up for fuel or getting a drink, is there if we can convince consumers to see the convenience channel as the staple for a purchase of healthier products.”

Foukkare, AACS, said he believed one of the main challenges was the lack of mainstream availability to a wide range of products, something nuTree could potentially help solve.

“The very big brands have options available however not to the same degree as major grocery, and to a lesser degree, health food stores. I see a real opportunity for P&C to get further behind this movement as it will pay dividends in future years.”

Ease of access

The P&C channel has always been a strong avenue for the sale of snacks and now with consumers becoming more health-conscious, healthy snacks have become more prominent in the category and many brands see the channel as pivotal.

O’Brien, Purabon, said the convenience channel is very important due to the broad range of customers it allows them to access.

“It’s a really good mix of customer types and segments that visit convenience&C. It forms part of our broad offering because we’ve got P&C, we’ve got grocery, we’ve got food service offerings. It rounds out our ability to get to market.”

Foukkare, AACS, offered some advice for those retailers looking to stock better for you foods.

You need to be in the category presenting a range, not just a few small options. Retailing is all about storytelling and providing enough of a range relevant to your local consumers, that they will not just grab one today, but take comfort that they will be able to have healthier options on an ongoing basis.

“My other tip is not to rest on your laurels once you have a range in. You need to always be curating your range, introduce NPD, delete the slow sellers, talk to your consumers and ask them what they want in your store.”

Foukkare pointed at the success of The Fox’s Pantry at BP Tugun on the Gold Coast, which earlier in the year was awarded AACS Independent Store of the Year.

“It is focused on healthier options across the board, the staff believe in it, the owners believe in it, their local community believes in them, and it is an amazing example of how understanding your local consumer’s needs and engaging into their healthier lifestyle can lead to retail success.”

This article originally appeared in the December/January issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine.

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