By Lorrie Baumann
The global market for snack foods is now worth about $36 billion according to market research firm IBISWorld, which also reports that the industry is benefiting from the introduction of more healthy snacks and favorable product pricing. Over the next five years, the snack food industry is predicted to continue growing as the economy strengthens and people have more disposable income to spend, leading them to trade in their junk food for premium snack foods that meet their criteria for the flavorful foods with simpler ingredients labels that they’re seeking out for their meals.
“There’s a lot of talk about a cleaner label. We’ve been seeing a lot more requests, and customers are coming up with their own lists of what they don’t want to see,” says AnnMarie Kraszewski, a food scientist at Wixon, which makes foods and flavorings used as ingredients by a wide range of product manufacturers. The companies with which Wixon works are asking for recipes that avoid anything artificial, anything that sounds more like it came from a chemistry laboratory rather than a pantry, she said. “It makes formulating a little more difficult, but in terms of the end product, it comes out rather nice, and the consumer likes to see the label, and so they feel better about the product…. Usually the customer tells us a profile they’re looking for. You try and make something that tastes fresh, whether that’s with herbs, unique chile peppers, things that make it a little more interesting. The bulk of the profiles that come in are savory, but there’s a lot of interest in sweet-heat or sweet-savory – a combination like maple and thyme, for instance.”
Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee
Laurie & Sons is a start-up company that’s making its Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee in La Marqueta, an East Harlem commercial kitchen incubator sponsored by New York City. The product received the 2015 sofi Award for Outstanding Chocolate, and it’s the first chocolate-enrobed crisp licorice toffee confection using real licorice root, according to Founder and Owner Laurie Pauker. The product is on the sweet side of the snack food continuum, and Pauker intends to keep her company’s product line of toffees and brittles firmly targeted at that category rather than among the gourmet gifts because Pauker and her three sons, who are the company’s chief product testers, believe that the era of calorie-dense, nutrition deficient snacks has passed. “It might be sweet snacks or might be savory snacks, but it’s all things made with good ingredients. The predecessors are no longer acceptable,” she said. “I think we’re moving more in that direction anyhow. People are snacking more than ever, and those foods need to be made better. They need to meet higher standards.”
The product line includes a couple of flavors of brittles that are baked rather than kettled: Toasted Almond Brittle and Mayan Spice Brittle. “It lets us make the product in a way that incorporates brown rice flour instead of some of the sugar. It’s incredibly light. It’s lower calories, but you feel like you’ve had something tasty and satisfying,” she said. “Portion control is easy because the pieces are sized to let you know what you’re eating, and they’re packaged in resealable pouches so you can take them with you.”
The candy that excited the sofi Award judges was inspired by a candy that Pauker’s grandfather used to give her when she was a little girl. “It was fantastic and it was chewy,” Pauker says today. “One of the things we’ve focused on is putting flavor in toffee. It’s a great vehicle for flavor and spice.” The Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee is gluten free and flavored with bold black licorice underlined with freshly ground star anise and a little bit of pernod, a combination that lends depth to the flavor of the toffee. It’s made without corn syrup, preservatives or food coloring. The chocolate coating amplifies the licorice flavor, and each piece is topped with black Hawaiian lava salt to add crunch as well as flavor. “That took several months of experimenting to balance the right ratio of black licorice to star anise, but I think we found the right balance,” Pauker says. “As for the ‘dangerous’ part of the name, it’s dangerous because it’s so good and also because black licorice should not be eaten in great quantities. It’s like absinthe in that way. It has a little bit of a dangerous side to it.”
On the savory side of snacking, KaiYen Mai set out last year to make meat jerky that had the soft texture of the products made in her family’s company for the past 50 years but with modern flavors and ingredient labels that were cleaner than those of many of the jerky products already on the market. Her family had been making jerky in the United States for 35 years and in Taiwan before that, and when it came time for her to take over the family business, she decided to venture out with a new brand as well as keeping the family’s existing product lines on the market. Thus, fusion JERKY, which offers all natural, minimally processed beef, pork, turkey and chicken jerky in bold flavor profiles and with a soft texture that appeals to women and children as well as men, came to be. Basil Citrus Artisan Beef Jerky, Chipotle Lime Artisan Beef Jerky, Garlic Jalapeno Artisan Pork Jerky, Island Teriyaki Artisan Pork Jerky, Chili Basil Artisan Turkey Jerky, Rosemary Citrus Artisan Turkey Jerky, Lemon Pepper Artisan Chicken Jerky and Basil Citrus Artisan Chicken Jerky are offered in 3-ounce bags that sell for $6 to $7. They are made without preservatives or MSG and are gluten free. “It’s a clean label, so when you read the ingredients, you can actually read and understand it,” Mai said. There is currently not an organic product in the line because using all organic ingredients would make the product price-prohibitive in its market, she added. “We’re one of the first ones to do a natural chicken jerky. A lot of people are surprised by chicken jerky. A lot of people who don’t want to eat red meat turn to white meat, so this is another choice for them,” she said. “We’re also trying to make it affordable, which is why we’re not making an organic product at this time. I’d have to reduce the size and sell them for a much higher price. I just don’t think that’s affordable and reasonable for the average consumer.”
The Better Chip
The makers of The Better Chip are among those consciously defining their product line as lifestyle-focused alternative snacks for consumers who are looking for cleaner labels as well as exciting flavors. Ingredients for The Better Chip products, including whole grains and vegetables, are sourced straight from farms. All ingredients are gluten free and non-GMO, and they contain no trans fats. The company adds no topical flavor enhancers, so the flavors are inside the chips rather than coming off on fingers, says Andrea Brule, Vice President/General Manager. “We take a hard line on that. They’re not flavored like something, they just are.”
The Better Chip was designed to be merchandised in the deli department rather than on the chip aisle, so that they share that space with the items with which they’re usually served as part of a meal or at a party. The company very definitely had in mind that they wanted to make a chip that consumers would feel good about photographing and sharing on their social media. “When we developed the chip, we decided to source fresh ingredients and use that as a basis for a snack line that would meet those criteria for clean ingredients and healthy foods while at the same time using engaging flavors that are bragworthy, shareworthy. So when consumers put them on the table with hummus and yogurt dip and cured meats, our chips, in the variety of flavors they come in, are the canvas for how they want to express themselves,” Brule says. “They’re developed for today’s consumers with simple ingredients sourced straight from farms, ideal for entertaining and experimenting with…. My happiest days are when I see people engaging with the product in creative ways. The flavors and the colors really lend themselves to people looking for what they can create with it.”
This story was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.