By Grete Lavrenz, Executive Vice President, Food & Nutrition Practice Chair
When browsing the supermarket shelves, the cookie, cracker and candy aisles are certainly fun to peruse. But as the better-for-you sections in stores and the buzz around clean eating expand, are people even buying enough sweet treats to make sure the industry sticks around?
The answer is yes, and it’s more than you may think.
While it’s true that consumer demand for better-for-you food keeps growing, demand for indulgences is growing as well. According to IRI data, sales of ice cream, spirits, wine and salty snacks all grew by 4 to 5 percent — three times faster than the growth rate of the overall U.S. CPG industry. One may think these industries would be shrinking, crowded out by 100-calorie packages of raw almonds and snackable seaweed, but in fact the opposite is true. Has the overwhelming buzz around health food driven us back to the comfort of a bag of potato chips and a pint of frozen ice cream? Or are people eating healthier in tandem with rewarding themselves for it? It’s a fascinating phenomenon that contradicts consumer perceptions, and it could mean good news for brands looking to create the next indulgence product.
However, adding another cookie, cracker or chip into the mix can be the gastronomic equivalent of white noise. Last year, there were a reported $1.8 billion in new product launches in snack foods and sweet foods.
So how does a new brand or product stand out?
- Offer flavor innovation. Reports from the 2019 Sweets and Snacks Expo indicate that flavor innovations reflecting more exotic ingredients (lotus, masala), premium flavors (mango, cardamom) and new-to-market tastes (ghost pepper) are what consumers are demanding.
- Stand for something. Today’s consumers treat food the way they treat all other products — they want a brand whose story resonates with them, a brand that goes beyond the “what” to convey the “why.” If you exist for the sole purpose of selling chocolate, that’s fine — if you’re just looking to be another box on the shelf. But if you offer consumers a chocolate bar that’s Fair Trade certified, organic and donates 100 percent of its net profits to animal organizations around the country — well, that’s a mission that many shoppers can sink their teeth into.
- Be transparent. For 51 percent of consumers, transparency and clear and accurate labeling are more important purchase-drivers than price, according to research from Deloitte, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. In the face of the health and wellness movement, consumers are constantly justifying their treats — did I exercise today? How badly am I craving this? To convince some consumers to indulge can be more straightforward if they can do it by supporting a brand that demonstrates transparency and doesn’t hide behind a confusing label.
- Make it functional. One rapidly growing niche is that of functional snacks and beverages, which claim to aid health, boost energy or manage weight. Social influencers love to write and post about products that they believe are naturally functional: superfoods like avocados, blueberries and kale; “greener” carbs like peas and cauliflower; on-the-go add-ins like chia seeds, flax seeds and collagen powders; and clean-label snack bars with five or fewer ingredients.
Whether a new product or brand is entering the marketplace as indulgent or nutritious, there’s growth in both spheres. But for new indulgent products to have the same success trajectory that has been in place, one thing is very clear: having a story behind the product is now the expectation. And success is more likely when consumers find brands that resonate with something else they value.