Snacks & Candy

Better Than or Better for You: What’s Better?

Functional ingredients, fruit, jerky, bars and more provide alternative snack options customers are interested in
Love's snacks
Photograph courtesy of Love's

Even though consumers say they want healthy options, Casey Creegan, manager of private brands at Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores Inc., Oklahoma City, has seen traction in snacks that aren’t necessarily the healthiest but are slightly “better for you” than their counterparts.

“A lot of times what we found with research is that customers will ask for healthier options, but then they still purchase the less healthy options,” she says. “It’s something we really have to strike a balance with. [We want to] make sure that it’s something we can actually grow and not something that people are asking for but they’re not actually going to purchase.”

For Love’s, some of those center store items include beef jerky, trail mix, pork rinds and more, and in the foodservice category, the Love’s brand offers fruit, salads and cold pressed juice. In the 607-store chain’s endeavor to expand its private label business, which launched five years ago, Creegan’s strategy is to go with products that 

Similarly, General Mills positions its savory bars as “better than” instead of “better for you,” according to Dan Meyer, consumer insight manager for convenience stores at General Mills. Nature Valley Savory Bars, which launched this summer at grocery stores, are an innovation that General Mills Convenience is bringing into the channel. 

“[It’s] is a bit closer to the real consumer motivations while in store,” he says. “They enter planning to purchase a candy bar but choosing a grain bar due to their nature as healthier than a candy bar.”

“A lot of times what we found with research is that customers will ask for healthier options, but then they still purchase the less healthy options.”

Among the healthy products Love's stocks is beef jerky. The chain has two varieties: Love’s Jerky, which is a traditional soft jerky, and Love’s Real Beef Jerky, which has no preservatives or added flavors. The meat snacks come in 16-ounce and 1-pound sizes.

“[Love’s Real Beef Jerky] is our more premium beef jerky,” Creegan says. “A lot of people go to that because it’s a healthier option, they’re not putting any chemicals in their body. It’s just pure protein and not real high calorie. It’s a really high-ticket item, and people buy it religiously.”

Catalina Crunch—a snack mix, cookie and cereal brand based in New York—presents itself as a healthy alternative to a sugar heavy category and highlights protein on its packaging.

The brand is in Foxtrot, Plaid Pantry and a number of smaller scale convenience stores with the goal to expand its c-store reach, especially with its four pack of cookies, single serve 1.85-ounce snack mix and 1.27-ounce pouch of breakfast cereals. Keeping single-serve products under $3 to $4 brings opportunity, says Andy Van Ark, chief marketing officer at Catalina Crunch.

“We think that there are a lot of upsides to being in convenience,” he says. “[Catalina Crunch] is really conducive to single serve convenience-store options. Snack mix, for example, is what’s in Plaid Pantry out in Oregon. We believe there’s a lot of upsides there against competitors.”

Several of Kellanova’s new launches are made with functional ingredients.

“There is a growing interest among the c-store consumer to have snacks made from non-traditional ingredients like vegetables and legumes, as well as shorter ingredient lists overall,” says Daniel DeMeyer, senior director, commercial strategy small format at Kellanova Away From Home, Battle Creek, Michigan. “Better ingredients are gaining traction.”

The new Pringles Harvest Blends collection is made with whole grains, and RxBar A.M. is differentiated from the core portfolio because it offers 10 grams of protein, a soft and crispy texture with a creamy nut butter base and simple ingredients like wildflower honey, whole grains, nuts and seeds, says Brittney Williams, director, portfolio marketing, portable wholesome snacks at Kellanova Away From Home.

“The A.M. bar is a direct response to listening to [consumer] feedback and giving them a new option that aligns with their morning routine, while the core bar still serves their afternoon or pre/post workout nutrition needs,” she says.

Creegan also sees an opportunity to intermix better for you foodservice and center store items at Love's. Many people eat pork rinds with a keto diet, she says, so the chain has looked into marketing its pork rinds as an option to put in salads or in place of chips.

“We’re really trying to build up our fresh kitchen offerings and that whole area, integrating it with the center store,” she says. “I think that’s going to open up a lot more opportunities for not only healthier products, but more premium type private label products.”

For example, the deli program offers fresh cut fruit, salads and wraps.

“That kind of stuff is starting to replace that traditional c-store food, like roller grill and nachos and chili dogs,” Creegan says. “It’s really being replaced by more substantial meal type food.”

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