OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Who knew pork rinds would be considered a healthy snack?
"Some people would rather kiss a pig than eat a pork rind," says Mark Singleton, vice president of marketing and sales for Rudolph Foods, Lima, Ohio. "But with zero carbs and zero trans fat, we had a story to tell."
While the healthier, better-for-you trend has been chipping away at the "uberindulgent" quick-snack c-store environment for two or three years, retailers still say it has a way to go. In a recent CSP Daily News poll, three-quarters of respondents said healthier trends did not affect their business.
And yet, in the era of Michelle Obama's Let Move! campaign and national concerns over obesity, makers of candy, chocolate, chips and numerous other potentially decadent snacks are responding to health-conscious consumers, believing their numbers are increasing.
Low calorie, low carb, no sugar, low sugar, no or low salt, no gluten, high protein: All are emerging as featured qualities in a slew of new products.
Why? Changing demographics, for one thing. Millennials suspicious of chemicals and preservatives, baby boomers conforming to health advice and women focused on nutrition for themselves and their children are fueling the surge.
Second on that list is foodservice. The documented c-store trend toward high-margin foodservice items has been evident for several years, with a basic threshold being store cleanliness and the perception of freshness. Many believe better-for-you foods make a big contribution to both the perception of freshness and the bottom line.
Many are building chain brands around fresh food. Companies such as Kwik Trip, La Crosse, Wis., are using bananas as their lead. The stores are now able to snare a new demographic of health-conscious young people and women.
Big-name companies tied to traditional, more indulgent snacking are taking bold stands. Mars Chocolate North America, Hackettstown, N.J., for instance, is committing all new products to being 250 calories or fewer. Mars is also working on making new chocolate products that have fewer calories and less saturated fat and still retain a quality taste. Part of that work has been to reduce calories, sodium and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Other initiatives include providing nutrition labels on packaging to help consumers make better choices, with Mars one of the first confectionery companies to add the information to the front of its packages.
Similarly, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods has introduced SnackWell's Cinnamon Creme Drizzles Caramel Popcorn and Peanut Butter Flavored Pretzels at 130 calories and 110 calories per pack, respectively. Other new products include a peanut butter spread, a whole-grain biscuit and a sugar-free gum that fea tures B vitamins.
New York-based Nestle is focused on improving the nutritional density of its products by featuring fruits and vegetables, whole grains, calcium, omega-3's and antioxidants where it makes sense. It has introduced specific product improvements focused on adding healthier ingredients like whole grains, while also reducing sodium, fat and sugar in many of its products.
One of Nestle's latest products is a candy line offshoot of its Skinny Cow ice cream brand. The offer sits in the 110- to 120-calorie range. It falls in line with what many call the "better for you" segment of snacks that are "surprisingly low calorie."
Click here to read the full story in the February 2012 issue of CSP magazine.
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