The health divide

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Product development Nutrition Npd

The health divide
Depending on which category processors specialise in, the health craze is either stifling or encouraging creativity. Rod Addy investigates

The drive to make snacks healthier is inspiring new product development (NPD) in some areas, while in others, true innovation has slowed to a halt, as firms work on cleaning up product labels.

The growth of healthy snacks shows how much the priority to eat healthily has taken hold in society. According to market researcher TNS's Food on The Go data, salad boxes and bowls have seen the most value growth in savoury snacks, up 10% to £200M 52 w/e June 17​. "Pasta in particular is growing in popularity, with pasta salads becoming more refined," says Richard Esau, Greencore Sandwiches marketing director. And there's a lot more potential for salad boxes, which are still only a 5% slice of savoury snacks.

In cheese snacks, health and wellness is also a core driver, according to Dave McNulty, convenience sales director at Kraft Foods. "Now consumers are maintaining more nutritionally balanced diets, introducing items such as fruit, low fat yoghurt and cheese snacks." Where products could have been demonised because of their fat content, processors are majoring on their nutritional benefits to drive growth, he says.

Esau agrees that manufacturers are really analysing their products to see whether they can make nutritional claims. "Does bread contain beneficial oils? Do sandwiches contain a fruit or veg portion? That's where a lot of noise is happening at the moment and where there will be a lot of activity in the next two years."

McNulty also states that fortification is a good way of presenting products in a healthier light. Kraft Foods, for example, added Vitamin D to Dairylea, aiding absorption of the calcium it already contained. Fortifying Dairylea Lunchables has made the product nutritionally comparable to a homemade sandwich, he claims.

The introduction of Dairylea Dunkers Fromage Frais, launched in September, was also driven by a strong healthy eating agenda. The product contains real fruit purée with no artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners.

Also in dairy, the launch of Ezycheese by Dairygold Food Ingredients, to replace mayonnaise and crème fraiche with a lower fat alternative in sandwich fillers and dips, is another example of healthy eating driving product development. Dairygold has also launched several low fat gourmet cheddar sandwich fillings containing 16-22% fat.

The total sandwich category itself is still in rude health, climbing 5% to a whopping £2.99bn. With an 80% value share, it's driving 3% growth in the savoury snacks market, which is worth £3.74bn TNS Food on Go 52 w/e June 17​. Value sales of chilled packaged sandwiches are up 10.5% to £923M ACNielsen MAT 52 w/e October 6​ and given that the sector is well-established, that's impressive growth.

Esau is in no doubt that health is the number one driver for sandwich shoppers. This is as much about removing the food additives that have been so demonised by the national press, as it is about adding ingredients that have hit headlines for their beneficial properties. "It's a new way of looking at health - about cleaning up ingredients," he says. "In the past year or so we've worked through our product portfolio and cleaned up our ingredient declarations."

But Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich Association, warns that too much focus on reformulation can hinder true development. "The pressure to cut salt, sugar and fats means a lot of focus is going to go on developing these targets," he says. "I don't think we're seeing as much genuine innovation as we were two or three years ago."

John Armstrong, marketing director at hot snacks firm Kepak Convenience Foods, also believes that redeveloping products as clean label can gnaw into the time spent on innovation. "A lot of firms have been doing brand maintenance - cutting out salt and sugar, keeping the wolf from the door. That takes a lot of NPD time up."

Consumers' choice of hot snacks is also being hugely driven by health concerns and the health trend is here to stay, because of government pressure, claims Armstrong. But he believes the trend is becoming less about reformulation and a negative emphasis on cutting out so-called 'nasties', and more about the positives. "It's less about traffic lights and fat content. The consumer is getting bored with that; it's more about natural goodness."

He cites Walkers as a big brand that seized on the trend to launch its Sunbites wholegrain snack in October, boasting a third of the recommended daily intake of wholegrains in every bag. They also contain 30% less fat than regular crisps.

The bagged snacks market clearly needs to be shaken up with innovative products. The category, which commands just a 9% slice of the food to go market, may be worth £697M, but it's experiencing just 1% growth, according to TNS. Demand for health and quality is fuelling an increased interest in almonds as a bagged snack, according to the Almond Board of California.

Meanwhile, for Tyrrells, which prides itself on catering for the more niche crisp consumer, provenance is playing a significant role in product development. Founder and boss William Chase says baked snacks based on broadbeans and pulses sourced from the UK will be a key focus for the company in the next year. "It's at the research stage. We're doing trials and focusing on the provenance theme. We're not looking at extruded snacks, something that's been through mass production."

Esau sees a powerful provenance theme also emerging within sandwiches. "There's an appetite for upmarket, luxury food where development and innovation is as much around sourcing as the recipe itself." Manufacturers are therefore on to a winner if they can source sandwich ingredients from regions famed for them, a good example being Wiltshire ham, he says. "Of course, this puts pressure on the sourcing team to find non-industry sources for the food."

Ethnic and authentic

Casting the net further afield, authenticity with regard to world cuisine is becoming as much of a buzzword as provenance. Sushi is one illustration of an ethnic snack that is really taking off, says Esau. "We've seen massive growth here and it's still a relatively underdeveloped market." Despite success at Greencore, recent figures from TNS show a discouraging performance for sushi, down 7% to £22M. However, TNS attributes this to a dip in summer sales and says the market is recovering now.

Future growth may lie in sushi with a European twist as much as in the classic sushi format, says Esau. "It can go both ways. It doesn't have to be fish, you could have meat or sweet things in sushi form. There's massive scope for innovation."

The twin ideas of authentic ethnicity and authenticity with a twist are as prevalent in baked snacks as they are in chilled. "In recent years we have seen how consumers are prepared to spend more for certain types of bakery lines - authentically continental products such as croissants, Danish pastries or ethnic breads and rustic savouries for example," says Kate Raison, marketing director at Bakehouse.

Greencore's NPD has also been inspired by different cultures. The company has just taken on the licence to make Weight Watchers sandwiches, and is using ethnic flavours in order to spice up its offerings - a classic example of how the company is having to be more creative, rather than just relying on the old fall-back ingredient options. Stronger, more exotic flavours are selling well, says Esau. "Sweet chilli and ginger chicken wrap is going strong and Mexican and spicier flavours are becoming more popular."

Another example of authentic ethnicity is the panini, which is a major focus for NPD at Kepak. The manufacturer has just launched its Ugo's Deli Café range into Tesco, Somerfield and Co-operative Group stores. Two products are leading the charge, chargrilled chicken with mozarella cheese and pesto (170g) and bacon, cheese and mustard mayonnaise (145g), with more to follow, targeting women aged between 25 and 35.

Ugo's Deli Café hot snacks are made with authentic panini bread in the traditional Italian way, says UK sales director Peter Fazal. "Paninis are one of the recent success stories in the foodservice sector and we're now planning to emulate that success in the retail sector." Kepak says the product is all about offering people café food in the convenience of their own homes or workplaces. "This is about getting Starbucks in your house," says Armstrong.

He also believes that there is plenty of mileage in manufacturers giving authentic ethnic recipes a European spin. "Use of the exotic mixed with the more straightforward is a big thing. It's about mixing and matching, keeping it interesting. Panini with teriyaki chicken, for example. Safe but slightly adventurous is where the mainstream is." FM

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