When snacking became the fourth meal of the day

When snacking became the fourth meal of the day

Earlier this week, I was discussing with friends how consumers perceive “better-for-you” versus “good-for-you” snacks. We noticed that companies are trying to create the next popular, healthy snack, and that there are several trends in this area.

These trends include:

  • Portion control (such as 100-calorie packs)
  • Adding healthy ingredients (such as probiotics in yogurt or omega-3 fatty acids in crackers)
  • Removing unhealthy ingredients (such as sodium from chips or high fructose corn syrup from fruit snacks)
  • Replacing ingredients with healthier alternatives (such as using adzuki beans and taro root instead of potatoes in chips)

Most new snack items seem to fall into one of these categories.

Are snacks from one category healthier than snacks from another?

We’ve been talking about some of these breakfast trends for a while now, but I can’t help but point out that the debate between healthy and healthier snacks is misleading, when instead we should be focusing on whether or not we should be eating breakfast. Nowadays, breakfast is so widespread that it can rightly be considered a fourth meal. Professor Barry Popkin and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina have conducted several studies to find out how snack consumption has changed over the last 40 years.

They found that both children and adults have increased their snack consumption, and that they account for about 25% of calorie intake. More recently, the team’s research has shown that snacks are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic.

It is not surprising that snack time is a lucrative opportunity for food companies. They are aware of this and have been actively promoting the latest and healthiest snack options. This discussion raised several questions for food companies: Why do some companies advertise the reformulation of their snack products (such as reducing the amount of salt) while others make changes quietly?

Does a company’s research and development budget or established brand influence how they change their snacks?

Do some companies expand their snack portfolio by acquiring smaller brands that represent specific trends? Do companies consider the impact of their snack products on an individual’s overall caloric intake, or do they prioritize increasing sales over public health concerns?

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