At the 2009 All Candy Expo this May in Chicago, Jill Manchester, vice president of immediate consumption, Kraft Foods, Northfield, IL, said: “Better-for-you snacking sounds like an oxymoron. However, snacking has become a way of life in America, and it is not going to change.”
What is changing are the types of foods being positioned as snacks.
“A generation ago, most Americans believed they should avoid snacking entirely, but today snacking is more acceptable and is clearly the fourth meal of the day,” says Harry Balzer, vice president, The NPD Group, Port Washington, NY, publisher of the “Snacking in America 2008” report. Twenty-one percent of all meals are snacks, according to the report.
“Before, better-for-you snacking was all about fruits and vegetables, maybe rice cakes, maybe granola,” says Manchester. “But it did not taste all that great.” So consumers easily strayed.
“Today, consumers still start with fruits and vegetables, then they add nuts, cheese, popcorn,” says Manchester. “For the first time, consumers are saying that they are trying to add more things to their diet. They are looking for the presence of positives: added fiber, vitamin and mineral fortification, heart-healthy and digestive-health formulas.”
Direct from Mother Nature
Fruits and vegetables are the original healthful snacks. The problem is, aside from apples, bananas, baby carrots and oranges, produce is quite perishable. To get consumers to eat more fruits and veggies, it is necessary to get creative.
“We have tried to eliminate the excuses for not eating more fruit with a high-quality product that is convenient, portable and nutritious,” says Angela Liu, president and founder, Crispy Green Inc., Fairfield, N.J. The company’s product is made of 100% freeze-dried fruit slices.
Freeze-dried fruit pieces go into all types of snack foods. The plain pieces do not require any added sweetener. Further, freeze-drying allows for a crisp, rather than chewy, texture.
“Freeze-dried fruit snacks are making a comeback. They no longer have the styrofoam texture they did years back,” says Reid Wilkerson, president, McClancy Seasoning Co., Fort Mill, SC. “The plain fruit is great for kids, and topical seasonings make the fruit snack more appealing to adults. Imagine apple pieces seasoned with cinnamon sugar or a caramel powder. A little seasoning goes a long way in this application, adding very little in terms of calories, yet adding a lot of taste appeal. The seasoning adds value, as it gets kids and adults to eat more fruit.”
Developing healthy snacks for kids is very top-of-mind today. “The only way we’re going to reverse obesity trends is to start with children,” says Dave Copeland, president, AppleBoost Products Inc., Churubusco, NY. “And the only way kids are going to choose healthy foods over sweet or salty snacks is to make health taste good.” The company’s snack tubes contain organic applesauce pasteurized with high pressure to preserve both flavor and nutrients, and are fortified with dried apple-peel powder.
The peel contains the bulk of an apple’s dietary fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, patented the technology to make the dried applepeel powder. Infused apples can stand in for many different fruits. Infusion with colors and flavors creates flavor profiles that blend well with other ingredients to make snack mixes and granola bars,” says Doug Webster, technical services manager, Tree Top, Inc., Selah, WA. “They function similarly to raisins, but can add a dramatic kick of flavor and color to any food product. Because they are apple, they are a lowcost alternative to the more-expensive fruit that they are flavored to taste like. Finished products can be labeled: ‘made with real fruit.’”
Another option for snacks is low-moisture puffed apple pieces, “They also can be naturally colored and flavored to successfully mimic more-expensive fruits, including blueberries, strawberries and peaches,” says Webster. “The process of puffing apple pieces expands the cellular structure, causing each cell to puff during drying. Since the fruit is never frozen, texture is better than freeze-dried fruit at about one-fourth the price.”
Blueberries have been recognized as a powerful functional food. In April, the New York State Dietetic Association surveyed its leadership and asked them to choose the top functional foods based on health benefits and value. Blueberries were the only fruit on their top-five list, and came in third place, after salmon and oats. Blueberries were chosen for their high level of antioxidants, which are thought to help protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals and the chronic diseases associated with the aging process.