From sugar reduction to better-for-you indulgence: What’s trending in child-to-teen snacking?

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

How are the latest health trends playing out in convenient, back-to-school offerings? GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt
How are the latest health trends playing out in convenient, back-to-school offerings? GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt

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In a post-pandemic world, snacks are moving beyond their discretionary roles, according to consumer trend forecaster WGSN, to serve a ‘new purpose as functional sustenance’ throughout the day. How are brands innovating with health front-of-mind?

After more than a year of distance or hybrid learning in the UK, kids and teens have returned to the classroom. And with them, snack-filled lunchboxes.

According to consumer trend forecaster WGSN, food makers are innovating to offer daily nutrition, reduced sugar, more protein and fibre and immunity boosts, in combination with ‘bold flavours’ and ‘mindful indulgence’.

So how exactly are these trends playing out in convenient, back-to-school offerings?

Less sugar, more protein

Sugar content is increasingly front-of-mind for adult shoppers. According to Glanbia Nutritionals, more than half of global consumers are looking to replace conventional food products such as chocolate with high-protein, low-sugar alternatives.

In the UK specifically, new HFSS (high fat, sugar, salt) regulations are encouraging brands to reformulate. The rules will see media and promotional restrictions come into play on ‘unhealthy’ products next year. This means volume promotions will be banned, as will the placement of HFSS products in secondary promotional locations, and the marketing of such products in digital and pre-watershed TV.

Across the pond, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its Nutrition Facts label to ensure added sugars are now highlighted.

How can snacks makers innovate with reduced sugar content in mind? “One alternative is snacks such as crisps and freeze-dried snacks made from naturally sweet fruit,” ​noted WGSN.

In France, snacks brand Il Etait un Fruit is making dried fruit snacks without added sugar or oil. Flavours include Crunchy Apple with Cinnamon, Organic Crunchy Apple with Raspberry Puree, and Sweet Potato with Herbs de Provence.

All fruit and vegetables are sourced from France, with as much ‘anti-waste’ produce selected as possible.

sugar AndreyPopov
Sugar content is front-of-mind for adult shoppers - for both themselves their kids. GettyImages/AndreyPopov

According to WGSN, parents also welcome protein-rich options. In the US, refrigerated snacks bar maker Perfect Snacks has developed a new range for kids: Perfect Kids.

Each 30g bar contains 7g of protein. The organic ingredients list includes peanut butter, honey, milk, chocolate, oats, rice protein, and whole food powders.  

Better-for-you treats

Just as has been observed in the adults snacking space, better-for-you indulgences are trending in back-to-school options.

WGSN puts this down to parents wanting to give their children a ‘sense of normality’ following a year of pandemic restrictions. Better-for-you indulgence lends itself to ‘comforting and nutritious treats’ as kids return to school.

“Parents are turning to nostalgic and familiar comfort food to help kids transition back to the classroom, but are also seeking value-added products that do the hard work for them,” ​noted the trend forecaster.

So what are the characteristics of a ‘healthy treat’? The presence of lean labels, low sugar claims, and high fibre ingredients is increasing in the indulgent snacks category.

In Australia, for example, snacks brand Messy Monkeys has developed a puffed rice bar that contains chickpeas and sorghum, providing 12% of children’s daily fibre needs without artificial colours or flavours.

In the US, challenger brand JimJams is making chocolate spreads with 83% less sugar than leading brands in the category thanks to the use plant-based sweetener maltitol.

doughnuts Alexandra Fedorova
HFSS-compliant, 'steam-set' doughnuts have been developed in the UK. GettyImages/Alexandra Fedorova

And in the UK, bakery goods brand Urban Legend has developed an HFSS-compliant doughnut.​ The offering is free from artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colours, and flavourings. Instead, the start-up is using colours extracted from flowers, plants, and vegetables.

The real innovation, however, lies in the way Urban Legend’s doughnuts are cooked. The patented manufacturing process uses novel starch and protein technology that allows dough to ‘set’ by a beam of steam, rather than the conventional frying method.

Healthy world flavours

Snacks are thought to be one way parents can encourage their children to be more adventurous in their food choices.

According to Glanbia Nutritionals, snacks are consumers’ top choice for flavour exploration, and this is especially true for younger consumers. Gen Z’s interest in snacks with ‘authentic global flavours’ doubled from 20% in 2019 to 40% in 2020.

According to WGSN, early adopter brands are putting healthful spins on snacks with global flavours.

In the UK, Munchachos is one such example of a young brand encouraging children to diversify their plates with snacks inspired by global cuisines. Designed by a nutritionist, its crisp range includes flavours such as Long Tong Noodles (China), Cha Cha Chips (Mexico), Take Tzat (Greece), and Fusilli Ciao Chows (Italy).

fonio Michelle Lee Photography
In the US, Yolélé is making crisps from the ancient grain fonio. GettyImages/Michelle Lee Photography

Over in the US, snacks brand Yolélé is making Fonio Chips inspired by West African cuisine. Sold in three flavours, the crisps are seasoned with moringa & baobab, chilli, onion & lime, and sea salt.

Well-known brands are also experimenting in the global flavour space. The Laughing Cow, for example, has developed a range of cheese spread flavours including Chickpea & Cheese with Herb, Lentil & Cheese with Curry, and Red Bean & Cheese with Paprika.

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