The number of people who prefer snacks rather than meals is increasing and producers are turning to consumers in order to develop new flavours and products. Evie Serventi reports.
The biggest change in the potato industry in the past 30 years has been the growth in consumption of French fries and a decline in fresh potato use, according data from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that outlines a number of reasons for this trend including rising incomes, a more hectic lifestyle leading to out-of-home meals, diversification of diets and urbanisation among others.
Consumers increasingly want ready-to-eat, flavoursome, convenient products. In the US, snacking has grown during the past few years and is set to increase 14 per cent by 2017, according to Harry Balzer, vice-president of market research company The NPD Group.
"A generation ago most Americans believed they should avoid snacking entirely, but today snacking is more acceptable and is clearly the fourth meal of the day," said Balzer, adding that 21 per cent of all meals are snacks.
The NPD Group research reveals taste, cravings, desire for fresh breath, having a sweet tooth, and finding simple and easy foods drive such snacking.
Potato chips are one of the most popular between meal snacks, which is good news for potato processors who are presenting new flavours and innovative products to new markets. Across the board, companies are realising that social and cultural changes impact consumer behaviour and new market opportunities arise.
For example, Farm Frites launched a spicy new promotion in September for spicy Curry Chips aimed at pubs across the UK, after learning that 25 per cent of people visit pubs at lunchtime for an hour or so, to socialise and snack, rather than eat a large meal. Farm Frites marketing manager, Nic Townsend explained that although traditional British outlets are popular, an increasing number of consumers are diversifying their diets and tastes.
"Combine this with the fact the number of consumers who have visited an Indian restaurant in the past three months is up 2.5 per cent to 23 per cent on two years ago, it made sense to use our expertise to create a tongue-tingling chip with an authentic Asian slant," said Townsend.
Snack-oriented convenience foods are eaten between meals but are often finding their way into meals as accompaniments or replacements. Meal accompaniment is most common at lunch but is declining after dinner. Snack foods also replace more breakfast meals than other occasions. Marketing and promotions reflect the importance companies place in consumer feedback.
This year, Walkers ‘Do Us A Flavour' competition has had more than 1.1 million entries and substantial web visits. The UK-based crisp maker asked the public to suggest a new crisp flavour for a £50,000 (€62,941) prize and one per cent share of future royalties.
Walkers expected 250,000 entries when the campaign began in July, but since the website launched it has seen a total of 2.4m sessions, with visitors spending an average of nine minutes online per session. At its peak in August, the website had 102,000 web sessions per day.
Most snacks are consumed in the evening at home, but evening snacking is declining with morning snacking showing the strongest growth. In addition, snack foods replace more breakfast meals than other meals and snacking in the afternoon continues to remain stable.
US-based entrepreneur Brett Stern is busy shipping his new Beer Chips to major supermarket chains across the US and has recently started exporting to Japan, Singapore, Brazil and England.
Stern's flavoured kettle-style potato chips are coated with beer; all natural and trans fat-free, and are marketed to adult consumers who get the munchies while socialising at sporting events, backyard barbecues or simply enjoying the company of friends. As well as helping people multi-task, Stern's chips are proving popular because they are fun and convenient.
With a background in industrial design and high-tech R&D, Stern is a hands-on ‘crazy' inventor, who has spent many hours in science laboratories and his own garage, inventing and creating new products and experimenting with mixes and processes. He launched his snacks two years ago, while sitting in a bar one evening.
"As I was drinking the beer and eating the chips, as they say, the light bulb went on. Since I can invent/design any type of product and most manufacturing involves heat, pressure and time, thought I would create potato chips made with
beer - Beer Chips. Other new flavours are Chips Shots - Margarita with salt potato chips and Hot Potatoes - Spicy Bloody Mary potato chips.
United States Potato Board president and chief executive officer, Tim O'Connor, recently spoke about the importance of experimenting with packaging, flavours and recipes in the name of innovation. And research facilities and innovations centres provide industry members with the ability to experiment and develop new products.
Food processing is one of Canada's largest industries. Due to increased consumer demands, the healthy foods and natural health products industries currently have annual revenues of over $150 billion globally. Cavendish Farms produces frozen potato products throughout Canada, USA, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
Last April, in conjunction with the Government of Canada and the Province of Prince Edward Island (PEI), Cavendish Farms announced plans to invest in a new Food Product Development Lab (FPDL) as part of The Culinary Institute at Holland College.
The Government of Canada and the Province of PEI will contribute CAN$1.2 million (€760,000) each in the development of the lab. Cavendish Farms will contribute $1m and Holland College; CAN$600,000 (€378,900) towards the new project.
The FPDL will combine culinary arts with the science of food to create marketable food products, and will facilitate collaborative work between chefs, scientists and industry to cater to these changing tastes and capitalise on this booming market.
A new baked product called 4 Ready Baked Potatoes, cross cut and lightly drizzled with olive oil, is proving popular in the UK. The new frozen potato product from Farmhouse Potato Bakers Ltd's Bannisters' Farm brand has been well accepted by retailer Morrisons. Sales of the Bannisters Farm signature product are already exceeding expectations thanks to their ability to offer the traditional baked jacket potato taste in just six minutes.
McCain Foods launched Sweet Potato with Rosemary and Garlic frozen chips last August, aimed at consumers who are looking for something ‘different' with a new taste sensation. In October 2007 McCain Roast Potatoes basted in goose fat were launched, with endorsements by celebrity chefs as goose fat being the essential ingredient for a top roast: this resulted in some 250,000 jars of goose fat were sold in the run up to Christmas - up 175 per cent year on year.
A demand for ‘clean labelling' and natural seasonings from the snacks industry, driven by increasing consumer attention to healthy ingredients has spurred flavour and fragrance specialists, Givaudan, to launch a new ByNature programme for the European market with a series of natural culinary profiles for meat flavours.
Through Givaudan's research and development involving advanced biotechnology skills, fermentation science and enzymatic processes, snack manufacturers can now access a far more extensive portfolio of high quality cost-effective natural flavours for snacks.
Packaging and processing equipment manufacturer tna, say incorporating software into flavouring systems to monitor and self-regulate feed-rates has improved the flavouring process in terms of matching the rate of seasoning supplied with the demands of the packaging system; in a way mechanics can not.
When the true demand of the packaging system is a nown, measurable factor, the flavouring system can automatically control the product throughput and ratio of flavouring to product, ensuring a consistent, even flavouring application.
"A fully integrated flavouring system, like the tna persino2, integrated with accumulation and distribution systems like the tna roflo3, automatically adjusts the load balance to match the product demands from the packaging system," says tna technical manager Mike Bray.
"By proportionally metering product to the feeder/flavouring sytem and controlling the load balance, the result is consistent flavour and optimum coverage," Bray says.
Heat and Control's innovative, technically advanced on-line seasoning system has improved seasoning operations for snack producers ten-fold.
The Fastback Revolution Seasoning System allows for seasoning to be applied to snacks just before they enter the weigher to increase production versatility. The seasoning system offers more uniform coverage, uses less seasoning, less product breakage, and less floor space; all for a lower cost.
The company's Belt-Type Flavor Dispenser allows for salt or seasoning to be precisely applied to chips by a metering belt, which mounts directly over conveyors up to 59 inches wide. The Pneumatic Salter gently blows salt onto chips emerging from the fryer for superior pack penetration and adhesion. The Roll salter efficiently disperses salt across the entire conveyor width, for a variety of snacks.