December 4, 2014

Snacking trends

It’s a category that is all too often overlooked and neglected, but one that has the potential to increase sales and the average cheque. Happily, it’s also an easy one .Snacking.

Snacking is such a broad category with endless room to move, change and innovate, with both supplier bought and in-house made products. It’s also a category that spans the entire day and helps to smoothly transition, and fill the gap between, the three major day parts of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Whilst there will always be a market for snacks like generic chocolate bars, lollies and potato chips, that’s not what I’m talking about here. The snacking trends that are really taking off and flying out the door are familiar products with a cool, gourmet, and sometimes quirky twist. We are also seeing the snacking category catch up with the health and wellness focus that has, for some time now, taken the market by storm.

Affinity and nostalgia are key words to remember when creating snacking products for your café. Think about the snacks you loved the most when you were a kid; if they are anything like my favourite treats, they may be a little bit daggy and dated, requiring some love before we present them to the masses. We are emulating the same mentality Heston Blumenthal uses in his hit TV show Heston’s Fantastical Food. Heston constantly pushes himself to reinvent products that we engage with every day – products we are likely to be a little bit sick of. You often hear him say that he wants to bring back the “wonder and excitement of childhood food”, and this is exactly what you can be doing with snacking products.

Let’s put this into context: liquid nitrogen and a gigantic Kit Kat is probably not reality and for this purpose is by no means necessary. It is simply the mentality of reinvention, nostalgia and affinity which should drive your new product development process and will in turn excite, and hopefully delight, your customers.

During our recent Food-To-Go Innovation Tour throughout NYC & London, we encountered a great variety of different snacking options from retailers like Marks & Spencer, Pret a Manger, J Sainsbury’s, Pure, Benugo, Le Pain Quotidien and many independent stores along the way. From the masses of products, three key snacking trends emerged: popcorn, pots and cookies.

Let’s start with popcorn. For me, going to the cinema is not complete without popcorn, and this definitely ticks the childhood nostalgia box. Popcorn can also be healthy, sporting a lower calorie count than traditional chips, that caters to our every growing health conscious customer base. Popping corn is not expensive, so you’re likely to gain a good margin on this product. Now, how do you pimp your popcorn? Flavours are endless in both the sweet and savoury category; get creative and quirky and try out some different combinations. To start you off and get you inspired, here are some of the flavour highlights we came across and loved: pickle & dill, Worcestershire sauce & sun dried tomato, wasabi, Za’atar spice, salted caramel, chocolate cracker and sriracha. Get popping!

Next up are pots, a snacking item you don’t find often here in Australia, but one that you can’t escape in the grab and go worlds of NYC and London. Pots are my personal favourite snacking product, because not only can they be delicious, varied and healthy, they can be incredibly visual, eye catching shelf art! The visual merchandising aspect is so crucial to pots and is achieved through the layering of colours and textures of ingredients.The more variety and vibrance in colour, the better.Think of pots as a mini meal, a burst of flavour to tide hunger over until the next proper meal. For this exact reason, many pots will have a protein ingredient as the “hero”. Great examples are sliced chicken, smoked salmon, boiled egg and spinach, herbed quinoa mix and edamame beans.To complement the hero ingredient, add anything from smashed avocado, pea puree, nuts and seeds, salsa, vegetable sticks, herbs, fragrant rice mix, Mexican beans, snap peas, sliced tomato and cucumber – the list goes on. You can recreate any meal or ingredient combination that you like and make it into a snack pot.

These mini meal pots are fantastic; however, if that doesn’t suit your business or you don’t have the kitchen facility to produce them, don’t fret. Simple snack pot varieties such as carrot and celery sticks with hommus (or any other kind of dip) and cheese sticks and fruit are reminiscent of lunch box favourites – healthy and easy to eat for busy and on-the-go workers. However, don’t stop here because as I said, the versatility of the snack pot just does not end. Breakfast pots are a hit with yoghurt, fruit or fruit puree and granola or oats to top. Even pots with fresh mixed berries and grapes or melon sticks are a fantastic option. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because these options are incredibly simple that they aren’t popular or valuable.

Due to their style and simplicity, pots should be operationally easy to produce and deliver a strong margin.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is cookies. Cookies are one of the most underrated, neglected and forgotten product categories. What is good about cookies? What isn’t good about cookies! Everybody grew up with and can identify with cookies; they are familiar to us. Mum, Nana, or both if you’re lucky, may have baked them for you as a child, you ate them with your glass of ice cold milk and left them out for Santa on Christmas Eve. The nostalgia rating just broke the Richter Scale! Great with coffee or tea, or on their own, with a hot chocolate or milkshake for the kids, a decedent reward to cheat day. Whatever the occasion, the world loves cookies. Be that as it may, the cookie must be good to stand out, grab customer attention and create a following. So, what makes a cookie “good” or better than good? I workshopped this question with my fellow travellers on our Food-To-Go Innovation Tour (where we ate many a cookie) and the overall consensus is that a good cookie should: have an indulgent and soft centre, a crunchy outside, be generous with “filling” i.e. choc chips or nuts and have a smooth and buttery mouth feel. Let your imagination run wild with different flavours, fillings and even base ingredients. Try out coconut flour, almond meal, coconut sugar or hazelnut meal. Innovate on this timeless favourite.

I have discussed three snacking products which are currently on-trend; however, I challenge you to create and develop other innovative snacking products which push the boundaries, evoke nostalgia and affinity and delight your customers. Importantly, create snacking products which are complementary to your business and which drive average cheque and daily sales whilst filling the gaps between the three major day parts.

About the author

Mel Sharpe is the Operations Manager of the Australasian Sandwich Association and is also Director of Passageway. Passageway specialises in creating bespoke food industry insight tours throughout Australia and the world.

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