In the bag

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In the bag
Will hunger for healthier food-on-the-go increase pressure to reformulate traditional bagged snacks? Gail Hunt asks

There can't be many people that haven't either seen or heard about the British Heart Foundation's (BHF's) latest ad campaign featuring a young girl drinking from a bottle of cooking oil with the caption: 'What goes into crisps goes into you.'

Launched in September, this hard-hitting message was based on a BHF survey of 8-15 year-olds, in which half the children admitted to eating at least a pack of crisps a day. And almost one in five ate crisps twice a day or more.

Of course, it completely ignored the tremendous strides that most responsible bagged snacks manufacturers have been taking to reduce salt and fat. As Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director of communications Julian Hunt says: "We welcome anything that raises the debate about diet, but scare tactics are a waste of time."

It also bypassed the role of parents in monitoring their children's diets, but let's not get into a Jamie Oliver-style rant at them here.

What it did do was to once again paint crisps as akin to Satan's spawn. But even the BHF doesn't believe this, as long as crisps are eaten as an exception, not as a rule. "We are not saying don't eat crisps, we've never said that," said the BHF. Instead, the BHF claims it is trying, through its Food4Thought campaign, to help children and parents make healthier choices.

And so what are manufacturers doing to not only combat all this bad publicity but to maintain sales which, according to The Grocer's Top Products Survey last year, saw a decline in value of 1.2% (In a category worth a massive £1.8bn)?

Quite a lot is the answer, with a plethora of better-for-you options, reformulations and even brand-new manufacturing techniques.

Take market leader Walkers, for instance, which introduced Potato Heads last year. It has also relaunched both Walkers Crisps and Walkers Lights, and introduced Walkers Baked in September.


Walkers Baked contains 70% less fat than regular crisps and less than 100 calories per pack. It is the result of more than £15M investment in research and development and is made using technology which Walkers claims cannot be replicated by competitors.

As PepsiCo trade marketing manager Cara Beeby says: "The crisps and snacks category is now back in growth and much of this can be attributed to the fact that significant steps have been taken towards offering consumers healthier options." And although Beeby believes new product development (NPD) which offers consumers a better option without compromising on taste will be successful, she also thinks it's important to include premium products in the mix.

But removing bad and adding good ingredients is not easy, nor is it cheap, and NPD has to find solutions to this conundrum. One research project which will allow snack equipment manufacturers to redesign their machinery to cut salt content without altering the flavour of their products has just been completed.

Three years of collaborative work carried out at Birmingham and Nottingham universities has resulted in new mathematical models supported by pilot trials, which will enable the equipment for adding flavours to snacks to be set up for maximum flavour and aroma release.

The potential benefits of the work are significant, says Professor Andy Taylor of the Flavour Research Group at Nottingham University. "[With it] you can start to design a system to get what you want."

The research studied the adhesion of flavour particles in fat coatings on the surface of snacks, with the aim of reducing the high losses typical in snack production. "The challenge is to formulate and deliver flavour to consumers to get the best taste, but with minimal salt," explains Taylor.

Meanwhile, biscuit and snack manufacturer United Biscuits (UB) has been reformulating products and responding to consumer concerns about trans fatty acids (TFAs), recently switching to non-hydrogenated vegetable oils.

And all McVities' and Jacob's biscuits, cakes and snacks (including Jaffa Cakes, Go Ahead! and Mini Cheddars) are now baked with non-hydrogenated vegetable oils. KP and Jacob's crisps and snacks (including McCoy's, Hula Hoops and KP Nuts) are also baked or fried in non-hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Indeed, Alice Cadman, UB's head of strategic projects, says that UB has never been more focused on health and nutrition. Her role within the company, created three years ago to provide a point of focus, is testament to this. "I'm known as the health police in the business," she says.

Striking a balance

Cadman says that a "balanced lifestyle approach" will have a very significant impact on UB's NPD programmes in the future, with the three key drivers being health, indulgence and convenience.

She sees a mixture of reformulation and brand new launches meeting healthy lifestyle expectations but also points out the polarisation in the market and the growing demand for treats/indulgence products.

At the indulgence end of the snacks market comes Kettle Foods, which sees its Kettle Chips as playing a valuable role as occasional treats for adults. A new, lower-calorie snack range - Kettle Crispy Bakes - was launched this year as a better-for-you snack that doesn't compromise on taste. The range is manufactured from lentil flour, the latest addition being Crème Fraiche, Lemon & Coriander. This range is a different proposition to hand-cooked crisps which are considered an indulgence, says Kettle.

One trend that Kettle believes is contributing to the growth in premium products is the debit/credit system whereby consumers will, for example, eat healthily all week but then indulge at the weekend.

Competition between bagged snacks remains as fierce as ever, but the health debate has encouraged other products to enter the snack market: from nuts and cereals to fruit - whether dried, ambient or chilled. Practically every food group has a snack variant since consumers decided to eat more food on-the-go. And to hell with the indigestion.

Indeed, two new reports from Leatherhead Food International (LFI) show that cereals and dairy products are changing the face of international snacking. Choice is no longer restricted solely to crisps, confectionery or bakery products, says LFI.

One such variant is the Del Monte Fresh fruit and vegetable snack bags aimed at UK primary school children. The new bags claim to deliver healthy snack alternatives to crisps and sweets.

Research into children's snacking habits and preferences has suggested that once dried fruit, peanuts and seeds have been tasted by pupils there is a dramatic shift in attitudes toward including them in their diet.

Yet, at the same time, the study across secondary schools revealed that pizzas, sausage rolls, burgers and cheesy sausage baps remain among the most preferred snacks to be eaten at school, as well as crisps, chocolate, fizzy drinks and cereal bars.

So, it seems that future NPD in the bagged snacks sector will continue to be about reformulation to meet the changing market needs. Taking out the salt and fat from crisps is like working with both hands tied behind your back, said one industry expert. Surely it's better to start from scratch in NPD terms?

We can only wait to see if he is right. FM

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