Make way, sugary drinks and super-sized chocolate bars. For the past several years and especially since the pandemic, more consumers want to boost their health and shore up their immune systems by eating foods that are better for them, and that includes snacks they pick up while on the go or behind the wheel. A recent study conducted by The Hartman Group revealed that most consumers prefer fresh, pesticide-free, natural food with recognizable ingredients and few or no artificial preservatives.
Another report by FMCG Gurus showed that 80% of consumers worldwide intend to eat and drink healthier. They want more plant-based products and are looking to add fibre, protein and other nutrients to their diet. Post-COVID, numerous studies show people want to reduce their sugar intake and eat more plant-based foods: The 2020 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council found more than half of consumers think it’s important that the food they eat be healthy.
As shoppers’ desires for nutritious choices increase, better-for-you foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, health bars and yogurt are showing up on c-store shelves. Tapping into these changing attitudes, priorities and expectations, food and beverage brands—even ones widely known for their not-so-healthy fare—are pivoting towards BFY, because it represents a great opportunity to introduce new products to market that meet consumers’ demands while driving c-store growth.
Here’s how creative product development and innovative ideas are elevating the experience customers have when they pop into a convenience store to load up on snacks.
Consumers’ preferences are evolving towards better health
As wellness becomes a major driver in customer behaviour, the beverage and confectionery market is paying close attention.
“Research confirms that consumers are actively seeking beverage options that can fit into a healthier diet and lifestyle. The most important thing that we can do to help our retail partners meet consumer demand is to create a wide range of high-quality products for all needs and occasions,” says Marie-Hélène Jauron, sales business development director at PepsiCo Beverages Canada.
After extended periods of lockdown, consumers are eager to discover new and exciting products, so innovation is key, she adds.
“We’ve launched a number of product and format innovations in the last few years to answer consumer need for better-for-you options. We’re constantly innovating to transform our beverage portfolio to offer consumers more choice from the brands they love, such as Pepsi Zero Sugar and Bubly sparkling water beverage, and we’re seeing significant growth across many of these portfolios.”
Offering high-quality snacks—from trail mix blends to indulgent bites to wholesome bars—is the key to satisfying the diverse needs of customers, adds Stacey Biggar, the everyday chocolate lead for Mondelēz Canada.
“People have always loved snacks, but their lives are changing. They increasingly want to feel good about their snacks—not only that they taste delicious, but also that they are good for their minds and bodies, while not harming the planet,” says Biggar. “That’s why we keep renovating and innovating our portfolio with offers such as Better for You, Authentic Natural and Simple, Functional Nutrition and Permissible Indulgence.”
The big players are investing heavily in the BFY space
Globally, the confectionary market is expected to grow and reach US$244.25 billion by 2026, fuelled by the rising demand for ready-to-eat fare, according to a recent market report. To meet changing market preferences, manufacturers are expanding product variety and adding healthier ingredients like nuts, tropical fruits and organic herbs to their lines. They’re also acquiring better-for-you snack making companies.
In 2019, 7-Eleven launched 100 new BFY products in the U.S. from more than 30 upstart companies, including plant-based, organic, gluten-free, keto, paleo and vegan options. The brand focused on healthier alternatives, unique flavours and fresh takes on popular items.
In 2020, healthy snack leader Kind acquired Nature’s Bakery (makers of Fig Bars and other soft-baked goods) to advance its goal to build a health and wellness platform, while offering a variety of nutritionally dense food items.
Mondelēz has also been steadily acquiring majority stakes in healthier snack brands over the past few years, including protein-bars maker Perfect Snacks in 2019 and in-store baker Give and Go Prepared Foods in early 2020.
In January, Mondelēz International acquired Hu Master Holdings, the parent company of Hu Products (makers of wellness-focused, vegan and paleo-friendly snacks such as grain-free crackers and chocolate-covered fruits and nuts) adding to its other healthy brands like Enjoy Life and Perfect Snacks. These moves reinforce the company’s strategy, says Biggar.
“Our ambition is to lead the future of snacking by offering consumers a broad range of snacks, from allergy-free foods to simple ingredient lists,” she explains. “These brands also encourage shared learning across the organization.”
Improving the health factor for favourite products and introducing new snacks
Confectionary companies who usually offer less-than-healthy snack items are making efforts to market more better-for-you incarnations of popular items. For example, Mondelēz recently announced smaller-portions of Cadbury sweets in the UK.
“We want to help consumers easily enjoy the right snacks throughout their day and inspire them to snack mindfully,” says Biggar. “A major part of our commitment to Mindful Snacking comes from our focus on portion control pack formats. We’re committed to growing our portion control products to 20% of our global snacks net revenue by 2025, and will be placing portion guidance on all packs by 2025. In Canada, we’re prioritizing this with key initiatives such as the introduction of IC cookies packages and Crispers single-serve packs.”
In June, Häagen-Dazs introduced Divine, a three-flavoured ice cream collection with 50% less fat, 25% less sugar and just 200 calories per serving. Like its regular products, Divine contains simple ingredients and no artificial colours or flavours, and the brand hopes offering a better-for-you indulgence will appeal to health-conscious consumers.
Hershey is furthering its Zero Sugar platform, offering organic versions of its Milk Chocolate and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and developing more portion-controlled and plant-based options for future release. Kellogg’s now has a variety of no-sugar-added items and high-fibre cereals, and Nestlé recently introduced a vegan Kit Kat.
And in July, Canadian dairy co-op Gay Lea Foods launched Ivanhoe Nothing But, a crunchy dehydrated, gluten-free cheese snack in three flavours aimed at active consumers looking for healthy, high-protein portable snacks that are convenient to enjoy during outdoor adventures. The new product is the result of listening to customers, who are eager to buy made-in-Canada products in the better-for-you space, says product manager Monika Giasson.
“Canadians are looking for better-for-you snacking options that keep them fuller longer; cheese is the perfect high-protein snacking solution, and through research we learned that for consumers, specifically Millennials, this is a huge selling point,” says Giasson.
“Millennials still love cheese—they just want it to fit their lifestyle. As a dairy company owned by dairy farmers, we are able to capitalize on our core values of offering wholesome food that people can trust and rely on. So we turned our attention to developing an alternative cheese snack that matched their needs—a convenient non-refrigerated product with an exciting new texture—cheese with a crunch.”
Giasson adds that this new product offers consumers a healthier cheese snack in an on-the-go format, while allowing Gay Lea to expand out of the dairy aisle and into the better-for-you snacking category.
“Our customers flagged the product as a convenient snack that would be great for travel, kids lunches and a healthier, savoury alternative to items like chips when stopping at places such as gas stations, which aligned with the growing C&G channels,” says Giasson.
“Snacking is definitely a competitive category and we hope our strengths of being a local, proudly Canadian brand with wholesome food sets us up for success.”
As the better-for-you market evolves, food manufacturers and c-stores should continue to meet customers’ desires for healthier options, says Biggar.
“Mondelēz has been carefully listening to the changing preferences of consumers, which show the growing importance of the better-for-you segment. Sharing these timely insights with our retail customers helps position us so we can win together, and shapes what snacks we offer—helping us bring innovations and continued renovations to market.”
With new categories filling c-store shelves, and innovative, healthier choices being launched regularly, snack lovers will be rewarded with value propositions.
“It’s an exciting time for convenience stores because ultimately, it means more variety and choice for consumers and higher satisfaction for our customers,” says Jauron.
Strategies for operators to make the better-for-you category work in convenience
Snack food manufacturers, convenience retailers and distributors can work together to help build awareness and increase sales around BFY options.
Gay Lea is helping c-store operators market its new cheese snacks by developing floor displays that allow for retailer flexibility while also communicating the brand’s better-for-you selling points.
The PepsiCo Beverages Canada team works alongside its convenience store partners to build and execute engagement programs specifically around new product launches or priority occasions, says Jauron.
“Loyalty programs have proven to be an excellent approach for many convenience stores,” she explains. “By incorporating better-for-you products in these programs, there’s an added incentive for consumers to make healthier choices. Engaging with customers through store social channels also drives awareness of the new products available in store.”