Mixing It Up

Snack, trail mixes hit the spot for health-conscious consumers.

Article Preview: 

When Mars Chocolate Nor t h America jumped from the candy to the snack aisle last year with the launch of its M&M’s Brand Snack Mix, the company had good reason to believe customers would follow. People had long been mixing M&M’s candies with salty ingredients such as popcorn to create their own snacking combinations.

“Consumers like mixing the sweet and savory flavors,” says Larry Lupo,vice president of sales, convenience and drug channels for Mars Chocolate North America, Hackettstown, N.J. “Plus, snack mixes are hearty and satisfying.”

Pairing chocolate candy with nutritious ingredients such as nuts and raisins “is pretty much a win-win” in today’s snacking marketplace, says Melissa Abbott of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. Consumers are increasingly looking for the trifecta of health, convenience and satiation all in one snack, she says.

“No matter how healthy you eat, there’s nothing quite like an M&M,” she says. “But something we hear from consumers from all across the country is, ‘If I’m going to eat something that has sugar in it, I really want to make sure it has a high-quality fat or some protein to keep me from crashing,’” says Abbott, the company’s senior director of culinary insights.

Convenience stores sold $150.5 million in nutritional snacks and trail mixes last year, a figure that represents a 21% increase in dollar sales and 13.7% surge in volume, according to data from Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group. Mintel forecasts that the North American market for nuts, dried fruits and snack mixes will continue to grow over the next five years, from $7.2 billion in 2012 to about $9.2 billion by 2017.

Trail mix holds the smallest portions of sales in the salty-snacks segment, but it’s showing the greatest growth, says Cassandra Matos, Temple, Texas-based McLane Co.’s category manager for confections and, previously, snacks. For most retailers, the mixes have a 40% retail profit margin.

“We’re seeing tremendous growth in nuts, trail mixes and seeds across the category, “she says. “Snacking is becoming more of a meal occasion than it used to be.”

Americans are snacking more than ever before—two to three times a day, Matos says. And they’re looking for healthier solutions that can tide them over between meals.

“Certainly, trail mixes and snack mixes fall into those camps,” says Kelly Fulford, senior category development manager for Minneapolis-based General Mills.“They’re more of a substantial snack because their content varies between chips and pretzels and nuts and crackers. That keeps them interesting, too.”This year, seed purveyor David jumped into the mix with three flavors of trail mix and three varieties of flavored almonds.“We know that consumers are seeking a broader variety of snacking options and that 85% of David consumers are already buying nuts and trail mixes,” says Taylor Beckstead, brand manager for ConAgraFoods, Omaha, Neb. “So it seemed like a natural extension for the brand.”

Protein Power

Because they’re snacking more, Americans are looking for snacks they can feel good about.

Almonds are cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and high in vitamin E, Becksteadsays. And David trail mixes “are filled with crunchy nuts, delicious fruits and David sunflower kernels to provide that little boost of energy to conquer the day.”

General Mills’ Chex Mix Traditional draws the comparison to potato chips right on the front of its bag, pointing out that it has 60% less fat.

“[It] definitely has that health halo,”Fulford says. “They feel like they’re making better choices than eating a potato chip.”Health-conscious consumers, whether they’re heavily involved in their wellness regime or just dabbling, are likely looking for one critical ingredient: protein.

Protein awareness is higher and more sought after by American consumers than elsewhere in the world, Mintel reported in January. Consumers want protein for satiety, weight management and to boost and build muscles. Snacks, according to Mintel, accounted for 20% of the high-protein food and drink new-product launches in the United States last year.

“Because the instance of meal consumption is not considered as important as it once was, and more importance is being placed on snacks, a lot more attention is being paid to the type of snack and the ingredients being consumed,” Abbott says. “It’s not just about a treat anymore. It’s literally a stepping stone through the day.”

Consumers also are looking for antioxidants, telling researchers they want to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“It’s not always convenient to eat a lot of carrot sticks and celery and have fresh grapes available,” Abbott says. “When you think about [trail mixes] in terms of the dry format, it becomes much more easily adaptable to the consumer and current lifestyles.”Trail mix, nuts and seeds also are important to consumers looking to avoid gluten. The NPD Group reported in March that about a third of U.S. adults now say they want to cut down or eliminate the gluten from their diets, making it what the consumer research specialists called “the health issue of the day.”“Peanut allergies are not getting as much attention as gluten-free,” Abbottsays. Americans also are more willing to accept new nut and seed combinations in their trail mixes, such as pumpkin seeds, she says. In addition to expanding beyond peanuts and raisins, new trail, nut and snack mixes also are likely to reflect what is going on in food culture. Seattle-based Sahale Snacks, for example, features global flavors that include an exotic mix of soy-glazed cashews, pineapple, peanuts, lemongrass and mild Chinese chili or a gourmet mix of almonds, dried apples, flaxseeds, balsamic vinegar and cayenne. One of David’s new flavored almonds features a proprietary coating of wasabi and soy.

“As consumers are moving away from meals, they’re looking toward snacks that have influence regarding what a meal might look like, but in a snack format, “Abbott says. And while consumers also tend to like flavors that mimic those of chips, those with “more of a global nuance suggests to consumers it’s good for them.”

Sweet Success

Greg Lanides, Planters brand manager for snack mix and trail mix, says consumers often are looking for a variety of tastes, textures and fun in their snacks. Planters Snack Mix comes in Original, Bold and Sweet & Salty varieties, and Planters Trail Mix offers Nut & Chocolate, Fruit & Nut and Sweet & Nutty to suit different consumer tastes.“Planters Trail and Snack Mixes provide this while also being relatively nutritious,” he says.

And while snackers may be looking for nutrition, they’re also falling for the allure of sweeter snack mixes. Chex Mix Muddy Buddies, for example, are swiftly making gains on their salty cousin, Chex Mix Traditional, Fulford says. Muddy Buddiesnow come in three flavors, the original chocolate and peanut butter version, cookies and cream, and snickerdoodle.

“We’ve seen an 82% increase in dollar sales in c-stores from just the MuddyBuddies lines,” Fulford says, citing SymphonyIRIdata for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 24.

With their ability to be sugary and savory, nutty and chocolaty, indulgent but still nutritious, snack and trail mixes make the case that they offer everything snacker might desire. Lupo of Mars Chocolate says consumers love the M&M’s Brand Snack Mix combination of “creamy, crunchy, sweet and salty” because “it satisfies all your snacking needs in one bag.”The resalable bags come in two tonecolor schemes that emphasize their sweet-and-salty flavor profiles. The three flavors are M&M’s Milk Chocolate Candies Snack Mix, which mix M&M’s candies with mini chocolate chip cookies, peanuts and pretzel twists; M&M’s Dark Chocolate Candies Snack Mix, with dark chocolate M&M’s, raisins, almonds and pretzel twists; and M&M’s Peanut Chocolate Candies Snack Mix, with peanut chocolate candies, shortbread cookies, almonds and pretzel twists.

“The resealable bags offer convenience and portability,” Lupo says, “so you can eat some now and save some for later—and they are easier to share.”In addition to grabbing consumers with the sweet-and-salty combinations, established brands are using nostalgia to draw in consumers. “We find that consumers are willing to try a new flavor when they know and love the brand name,” Lupo says. David’s Beckstead points to that brand’s 87 years of providing wholesome snacking seeds.“As the No. 1 brand of sunflower seeds, we’ve earned the trust of consumers through a commitment to consistent quality and knowing how to bring out the best in what nature gives us,” he says.

“We’re taking that same commitment and passion to our new almonds and trail mixes.”Chex Mix often reminds consumers of family and friends gathering for the holidays or to watch a football game around snack bowls filled with the homemade version of the snack mix, Fulford says.“It’s nostalgic,” she says, “and it’s are recognizable brand that consumers love and trust.”

In the Mix

Trail and snack mixes are an all-day ring for c-stores. Research shows consumers will buy them to eat in the car on the way to work, reach for them as a bridge between breakfast and lunch, and munch on them into the afternoon as a pick-meup, Abbott says.

Mixes featuring dried fruits are more popular in the morning, with savory mixes appealing more to consumers later in the day. Convenience is a key reason that trail mixes perform well over other healthy choices, she says: “It’s the idea that it’s something that is not refrigerated, it will not spoil and is very accessible and portable.”

Manufacturers recommend displaying their mixes in the snack section of the c-store. “Most retailers merchandise the snack nuts, trail mix and sunflower seeds next to each other, which is what we recommend,” Beckstead says. “This allows for a simple brand block to be created that quickly enables consumers to shop the section while promoting cross-purchase.”While Planters trail and snack mixes are typically shelved in the snack nuts section, Lanides says retailers should look to drive additional sales with secondary placement near beverages or at the front of the store.

Retailers looking to capitalize on the new popularity of snack and trail mixes tend to take a couple of different approaches, Fulford says, including grouping healthy snacks together in a 3- or 4-foot section toward the store’s checkout.

“Retailers are doing that because the perception is that c-stores might not have the types of healthier products they desire,” she says.“They’re doing that to create visibility and awareness.”

Another approach, Fulford says, is to carve out a special section within warehouse salty for healthier snacks. “It comeback to that awareness,” she says. “You want to have some type of a dangler or something that’s going to draw that consumer’s attention and say ‘healthier than’ or ‘better for you.’ ”To make room for the new snack mixes, retailers have been tightening their selection of items such as pork rinds, Combos and chips, Matos says. For trail mixes, they’re focused on simply getting the right products.

Boise, Idaho-based retailer Stinker Stores recently launched new snack rack featuring Planters snack mixes, Greek yogurt bars and Kind bars. Wings on the display offer a breakfast trail mix from Emerald, Special K Cracker Chips and dried fruits.

“It looks almost identical to a [brand name] potato-chip endcap,” says Lon Audet, director of marketing and merchandising for the 64-store chain.

The chain removed another end cap to make room for the new products and shifted some of those candy products to anew secondary king-size display. Audet says the shuffling wasn’t easy in the chain’s smaller stores, and the company had to give up some rebate money.

But with all the new snack and trail mix products from major manufacturers, Stinker is seeking to seize an opportunity for growth in the better-for-you-snack category. “Once you start getting those guys into the game, it’s obviously a category that’s got some legs on it, and they see a future in it,” he says. Because the snack racks are so new, he didn’t yet have performance numbers.

Trail mixes have traditionally done well in Stinker locations because they fit with Idahoans’ love for outdoor lifestyles and activities. But the crowd Audet sees increasingly looking for trail and snack mixes speaks well for the category’s future.“There is more and more of a demand and request, even with the middle school and high school kids,” he says.

Click here to download full article