Organic and natural snack foods are a growing category in specialist health food stores and major supermarkets around the world as consumers look for healthier and nutritious options that are free of pesticides, chemicals and GMOs.

Packaged Facts estimates that 20% of all meal occasions are snacks, in a category that can include sweet and salty foods, raw fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chips and crackers and granola, chocolate and muesli bars.

Snack foods can often be an impulse purchase, but they are also a convenient and portable alternative for busy people on the go, for those that exercise or enjoy the outdoors and for school lunch boxes. Parents are increasingly turning to natural and organic snacks for their children, offering healthy energy, nutrition and great taste.

According to the U.S. Snack World magazine, May 2013, consumer demand for healthy snacks was the highest at 6.4% annual sales growth, ahead of value and indulgence, while overall snack food volume fell by 0.5%. Growing strongly were snack nuts, seeds and corn nuts with 10.9% growth, snack/granola bars with 6% growth and crackers at 3.7% growth.

Natural and organic snack foods performed strongly in the U.S. market in 2012, while Canada’s Organic Trade Association reported that organic snacks grew 4% in the country.
According to SPINS, information and service provider for the U.S. natural and specialty products industry, sales of natural and organic products were outpacing overall store growth across all chan- nels, with the Chips, Pretzels & Snacks category ($1.373bn) the third highest in sales. A SPINS report for the natural retailer channel (1,000 outlets) found that packaged snacks – nuts, seeds, dried fruits and vegetables, grew 31.8% for the 52 weeks ending February 16, 2013.

And Packaged Facts Culinary Trend Mapping Reports in 2013 pointed to a health and wellness snacking trend due to persistent high obesity and chronic illness rates, along with gluten-free ancient grains such as chia and quinoa as major trends in the ingredients and snack foods market.

“There’s growing interest in heirloom foods, and adapting ancient grains for snacks reflects that trend. It also dovetails with the increasing population of eaters who have food allergies or gluten intolerance, and who are searching for alternatives to wheat. Adding ancient grains to cookies, savory snacks such as crackers or chips, and bars offer product manufacturers a chance to stand out with unique textures and flavor profiles in familiar snack places.” Packaged Facts says. The UK posted growth in snack foods of 8.3% in2012, according to researcher Key Note, who says there is growing consumer demand for healthier snacks and gourmet popcorn, with a trend to reduced fat and natural ingredients in snack foods.

Euromonitor International says in the overall snack market, fruit snacks are among the best-performing categories in sweet and savoury snacks. By the end of 2012, on a global level, fruit snacks were projected to have made value gains of just over 5%, compared to chips/crisps 3% and the 4% growth being recorded for tortilla/corn chips and extruded snacks. Overall, sweet and savoury snacks were heading for a 4% global value sales increase in 2012. Fruit snacks are leading the pack with a projected a 20% value increase in Latin America and a 13% value increase in Asia Pacific.

Organic & natural retailers see more demand for healthier choices

With consumers becoming increasingly wary of additives, allergens and chemicals in food and the effect on their health and that of their children, health food retailers are ranging more organic and whole food snacks. In Toronto Canada’s worker-owned organic and wholefoods retailer The Big Carrot is stocking and selling more raw snacks, the most popular being kale chips.

“Our customers are looking for alternatives to high salt, trans fat snacks,” The Big Carrot says. “Products such as dehydrated flax and vegetable crackers are very popular. We sell plenty of nut mixes and snack mixes with superfoods such as goji berries. Coconut and date based bars and treats are also very popular. They are packed full of healthy calories and easy for those on the run.

“We have a very educated customer base looking for healthy, organic, non-GMO snacks that are void of fillers and common allergens while at the same time enjoying something really delicious.”

In Sydney, Australia organic and wholefoods retailer Aboutlife says natural and organic snacks have seen healthy growth over the past 12 months as people choose to manage their health through better food choices. Aboutlife says many customers are choosing wholefoods for their snacks, such as nuts, dried fruit or vegetable crackers, which are also organic or chemical free to avoid poor digestion, allergies, pesticides and additives plus these snacks often taste better.

“We have noticed a near 20% increase in organic and chemical free nuts and dried fruits and this has become one of the biggest categories in the snack food section,” Aboutlife says. “Other snack foods such as chips and crackers are stable on the sales figures and our own brand corn chips regularly perform well.

“With basic lines like almonds, cashews and mixed nuts we see customers often choose to buy in bulk, such as a 1kg bag. “Trends such as raw foods and super foods are always popular. Demand has increased for goji berries, acai and chia, and organic products including these ingredients have increased in price due to worldwide shortages.”
San Diego, California natural foods grocer retailer Jimbo’s… Naturally! is seeing a strong trend towards natural and organic snacks, one that is pulling customers into its stores. “In particular, mothers are concerned about the snacks that their children are eating,” Jimbo’s says. “Our ingredient standards, which include not selling products that contain refined sugars and not bringing in new products that contain any at risk GMO ingredients unless they are organic or the product has been verified by the NON- GMO Project (while we systematically continue to remove those products that contain GMO ingredients on our shelf), attract shoppers that are looking for healthier snacks.

“Another significant snack trend is raw foods, where shoppers tend to be adults with an existing knowledge of natural foods. It is just recently, however, that raw food offerings have greatly increased in variety, quality, and flavor profile, and now a large number of raw chocolates, raw kale chips, and other raw goodies are available to consumers that are seeking nutrient-rich and low- sugar options that also taste good. Over the past two years our raw food selection has increased from a small section to 12 feet, much of which is occupied by raw snacks.”

Jimbo’s still offers bulk snacks at all of its stores, but the trend has been away from bulk and towards packaged, primarily because customers consider packaged products to be more sanitary, while product loss in bulk is high due to spillage and ‘snacking’.