The Healthy Snack Brands Nibbling Away at the Industry

April 11, 2018

From Nakd bars, to Oppo ice cream, to Hippeas chickpea puffs, to The Giving Tree’s broccoli crisps, the market for healthy snacks is becoming ever more diverse.

Health and nutritional education is improving; smoking and drinking are on the decline; and new exercise trends are popping up all the time. The government has even introduced an added tax on sugary drinks, and brands are responding with health-conscious offerings. It’s clear that, as a nation, health is a big new market.

Snack brands are seeking to capitalise on the shift. They position themselves as offering health-enhancing goodies, that make it easy to stick to your good intentions even when you’re on the go, without compromising on taste. It’s an appealing prospect: after all, who isn’t intrigued by the prospect of easily-implemented better lifestyle choices? 

This is especially true when these new offerings are linguistically-coded to make you feel like you’re not even missing out. Brands are making sure to use the snacking language of old to make sure they still appeal on the taste front and aren’t overly alien to consumers (they’re ‘kale crisps’, rather than ‘baked kale’, for example). These new brands firmly market themselves within the ‘snack’ market, rather than the ‘health’ market. They don’t want to be lined up in specialist health shops, rather, you’ll find them as you approach the tills in Tesco and Sainsbury’s, amongst the full-fat dairy chocolate, and the good old-fashioned potato crisps.

As such, they’re not locked out of competing with regular snack brands. And there’s an advantage to be had over the stalwarts of the snack world—like Walker’s and Cadbury’s—beyond just their health appeal. With every new healthy snack, we’re learning new words, and being delighted by new tastes. Compared to five years ago, there is a whole host of food words that have entered our vocabulary on the back of the healthy snack emergence.

Though ‘vegan’ and ‘organic’ have now lost their once-held mysticism and entered the realm of mainstream life choices, there’s been no shortage of offbeat dietary requirements to take their places. This new species of snacks boast that they are ‘Raw’ (but not ‘raw’), ‘paleo’, ‘plant-based’, and ‘keto’.

And there are new super ingredients to go with the trends. While we can all now safely say we know how to pronounce ‘quinoa’, you might not quite yet be down with ‘acai’, ‘poke bowls’ or ‘cacao nibs.’ The rise in manipulating new ingredients in strange and exciting ways, means that there’s huge scope for these brands to sell themselves on novelty value and appeal to early adopters. 

And it’s certainly working. An article in the Financial Times last year documents the traditional sweet biscuit market’s struggle against these new healthy competitors. The sector has cited snack bars and fruit snacks as the reason for this drop in sales, and some are racing to embrace the new arrivals.

Back in 2015, Lotus (makers of speculoos and biscoff) acquired Natural Balance (makers of Nakd bars) and Urban Fresh Foods (makers of Bear fruit snacks and Urban dried fruit). Lotus then pushed hard to increase Nakd’s awareness by sponsoring Veganuary (an initiative where people are encouraged to try veganism for January), as well as advertising in magazines like Waitrose Weekend and Costco’s Connections. It’s paying off, with Lotus reporting its largest growth was found in its natural division (i.e. the Nakd, Trek, Bear, and Urban Fruit ranges).

Graze snacks are also doing well. Sales have risen 8% year on year, and the brand is now expanding into the US. Graze built a firm brand image when they started out as a subscription service. It was a half-retro, half-futuristic move for an FMCG company and cemented the name in the minds of their loyal customer base.

When they moved to supermarkets, therefore, they already had a foothold in the minds of consumers. It was a particularly smart decision bolstered by fortuitous timing: the UK government were pushing hard to remove sugary snacks from the ‘impulse purchase’ racks near the tills and retailers needed something to fill the space. 

However, while healthy snacks may be encroaching on the territory of classic labels, it’s not quite the same story when it comes to consumer awareness. Our recent Snacks Industry Report showed that there’s still quite a way to go when it comes to achieving dominance in the minds of consumers.

In our top ten most-named brands, there was not one that markets themself as a healthy choice. Crisps and chocolate reigned supreme, and the only health brand to make it near the top 10 was Nakd, coming in at 12th place. However among those who did name them, everyone reported being ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to buy a Nakd bar in the future.

Of course, when a new trend arises, it will take some time to gain traction and the signs are looking positive for the healthy snacks industry. That said, if they are to really challenge the nation’s favourite snack brands of old, they are going to have to fight hard to appeal to the masses.

To conclude, the snacks industry is undergoing a monumental shift. While the giants such as Walkers and Cadbury shouldn’t feel threatened at this point in time, especially if they continue to innovate healthier snacks to match the changing market preferences, there are growing names such as Graze and Nakd quickly cementing their place in the market.

Here we see an industry forced to respond to consumer preferences, as the media and government push for healthier lifestyles for the UK. There’s certainly a space for healthier snacks in this new segment, and small disruptor brands are doing well to fill these spots.

Given the innovative, often sci-fi nature of the products being manufactured, who knows what we’ll be snacking on in another 5 years time?

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