Remember when eating in America meant three square meals a day? That day is gone.

Everything about today’s eating pattern—including when, where and how often—has become more informal. And what used to be three scheduled mealtimes a day now translates to five, six or even seven and a half meals and snacks at absolutely all hours. Moreover, on-the-go eating requires foods that are portable for the car, couch or even the Little League baseball field.

Millennials, in particular, continue to lead this portable, on-the-go eating shift. These consumers focus on snacks and “grazing” rather than meals. Likewise, they tend to merge traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner choices for new-style products and eating occasions.


Long Live—the Sandwich!

One of the Western’s world’s earliest portable offerings, the sandwich, has since gained worldwide appeal with a broad range of bread carriers, fillings, toppings and other ingredients.

Interestingly enough, prepared sandwiches comprise one of the smallest subcategories within ready meals and side dishes in terms of new product development. In fact, new sandwiches accounted for only just more than 3% of all new products introduced worldwide in 2018, according to Innova Market Insights. This reflects relatively limited launches overall as many people continue to make their own sandwiches, and even these numbers have fallen in recent years. Although up slightly overall over the 2013 to 2018 period, numbers peaked in 2014 and have fallen every year since, perhaps over concerns about packaging/waste and greater interest in fresh, customized options.

The picture in the highly developed US market is slightly different, however. The US accounted for nearly 27% of global sandwich launches in 2018, which is a very big share for just one country, considering that the whole of Europe accounted for only 41%, with the UK the leading individual country in the region on 12.6%. Sandwiches also accounted for a much higher than average share of ready meal and side dish launches in the US, with 7.6% of the 2018 total, and also saw rising levels of activity, taking share up from 6.7% in 2017.

The US sandwiches market is characterized by the traditionally strong presence of hot-eating, particularly frozen options, although as the chilled prepared foods and food-to-go markets have developed, there has been rising interest in cold sandwiches, particularly featuring specialty bread and flatbreads such as wraps.

Although the chilled and fresh prepared categories are relatively fragmented, major players are much more significant in the frozen hand-held market. These includes leading US frozen foods company Nestlé, which has a range of brands including Hot Pockets and Lean Pockets, as well as items under its Lean Cuisine weight management brand. Rival ConAgra has also been developing its range under brands such as Odom’s Tennessee Pride, where launches have included Nashville Hot Chicken & Buttermilk Sandwich, Sausage, Egg & Cheese Croissant and Sausage, Egg and Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit.

Launches during the first half of 2019 included a Lean Cuisine Comfort Chicken, Spinach & Mushroom Panini from Nestlé USA, Arlington, Va.; three new Plant Based Pockets from The Tofurky Company, Hood River, Ore.; and new breakfast sandwiches from Real Good Foods, Glendale, Calif.
The refrigerated, fresh market is vibrant and dynamic from coast to coast. New refrigerated offerings here range from an Organic Garden Veggie Wrap from Earthlight Natural Foods, a Stroudsburg, Pa., retailer; to several new vegan sandwiches from Snackrilege LLC, Portland, Ore. Those items include a “War Enscramble” breakfast sandwich and a “Lord of the Wings” seitan steak with blue cheese and sweet’n’ spicy rainbow slaw.


Better Bites

Other key portable snack categories include finger foods and appetizers. Although finger foods/hors d’oeuvres ranks sixth of 14 subcategories in terms of new product development within snacks (as defined by Innova Market Insights), it has seen rising levels of activity in recent years.

Worldwide, the finger foods/hors d’oeuvres sector accounted for 7.3% of global new product launches during the 12 months to the end of March 2019. The category was even more active in developed regions. During the same tracking period, these items featured in more than 9% of all new products in North America, nearly 11% of all new entries in Europe and close to 12% of all new products in Australia and New Zealand. This is not really surprising in the light of the more developed nature of the convenience and snacks markets in these parts of the world.

The subcategory is highly fragmented, reflecting the wide range of different products within it, including pastry products, coated snacks, spring rolls, egg rolls, dumplings, tacos, mini pizzas and hot dogs. Overall, there’s a growing wave of ethnic offerings and particularly Asian options. These products feature Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese and Indian formats and flavors.

This fragmentation also is reflected in launch activity, with a wide range of companies supplying the market—as well as a strong private label presence.

Recent US new product launches vary broadly. They include frozen ready-to-heat products such as Nestlé’s Tombstone Pepper & Sausage Mini Pizzas, Ajinomoto’s Ling Ling Egg Rolls (in Chicken & Vegetable and Pork & Vegetable varieties) and Del Monte’s Veggieful Veggie & Mozzarella Bites and Spinach & Feta Bites.

New chilled, ready-to-eat options have included Genoa Salami Artisan Wraps from Formaggio Cheese, Hurleyville, N.Y.; and Cracker Barrel Cheese Pairing Plates from Kraft-Heinz, Chicago. Varieties include Vermont Sharp White Cheddar, Strawberry Jam, Wheat Crackers & Semi-Sweet Chocolate; as well as Havarti with Multigrain Crackers & Uncured Hard Salami.

New products emphasizing convenience and culinary appeal have made frozen snacks and appetizers a particularly strong market in the US. According to IRI data, overall frozen appetizer and snack roll sales (tracked through multiple retailers) rose 3.8% to US $2.3 billion during 12 months through the end of May 2019. All leading brands reported growth.

A category leader is General Mills, which expanded its popular Totino’s Pizza Rolls brand with a new sub-line of Totino’s Mini Snack Bites, which can be microwaved or oven baked. Another category climber is Ruiz Food Products Inc., Dinuba, Calif., whose recent launches have included El Monterey Beef & Cheese Taquitos and Mexi Sliders.

More recently, Rich Products, Buffalo, N.Y., has grown its Farm Rich brand with Bean Dip Bites, made with mozzarella cheese, pinto beans, tomatoes, jalapenos and onions—all paired with a creamy salsa dipping sauce. It was part of the brand’s Special Edition line, which has seen products such as Fiesta Chicken Roll Ups, Avocado Slices and Pimento Cheese Bites added to its range. It also has a range of seafood products and snacks under the SeaPak brand.

Finger foods and appetizers tend to offer more substantial options than traditional sweet and savory snacks. Of course, the drawback is that many of these items need to be heated, which makes them less portable and suitable for on-the-go consumption.

Other options, still outside the traditional snacks market, also may offer a more substantial snack, while fulfilling portability requirements.


Raise the Bar!

Snack bars—which can cross multiple categories of cereals, snacks, confectionery and bakery—represent an important product platform. Not surprisingly, bars have registered consistent sales growth during the past several years. Moreover, they also enjoy a healthy image despite recent concerns about sugar levels.

Snack bars have come a long way since granola bars first debuted in the 1970s. Of course, the market continues to diversify, with many fruit, nut and sports protein bars now competing alongside traditional cereal bars. Health remains an overriding factor for manufacturers positioning snack bars as better-for–you options to savory snacks, confections, biscuits and cakes.


According to Innova Market Insights data, the global market for cereal and energy bars (excluding specialist sports nutrition products) reached sales of more than US $14 billion at retail in 2018. Moreover, the global bar category continues to experience positive gains with a compounded annual growth rate of 3.7% reported from 2014 to 2018. North America accounts for a dominant 61% of that growth, with the US the largest individual market, ahead of the United Kingdom and Canada.

As its popularity has grown, the sub-category has broadened to encompass a wide range of products—including granola/muesli bars and breakfast bars, as well as nutrition, energy and performance bars.

The nutrition bars sub-category focuses specifically on health, but most of the products launched into the market also use health claims. Again, health continues to be the single most important issue affecting snack bar developments. There are now bars suited to all health needs—whether a consumer wants to replace a high-calorie chocolate bar, target a certain level of protein, or incorporate more “superfoods” into the diet.

More than 85% of global snack bar launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 used at least one health positioning of some kind. This figure rose to more than 95% in the US.

Wholefood nutrition and natural ingredients are key areas of interest, with clean labeling and “free-from” claims as ongoing areas of focus. For that matter, “free-from” statements led all claims worldwide and were found on 55.5% of all new bar launches during the March to March tracking period. Again, on on a global level, free-from claims came in just ahead of other clean label statements, which were found on just under 54% of new bar launches.

Interestingly enough, these figures were reversed in the US during the 12-month tracking period. In the US, approximately 72% of all new bars carried clean label ingredient claims, where 63% of new launches carried explicit “free-from” statements.


Ingredient Insights

In more developed markets, Innova Market Insights finds protein claims now well established in both the mainstream and sports nutrition bar markets. Behind the scenes, protein ingredient choices continue to diversify. Now joining dairy proteins are more options from soy as well as other plants and even insects.

Fiber—originating from whole grains or more specialist prebiotics—also remains an important focus. Still more healthy ingredients also are extremely popular. Bar formulators also are cleaning up labels and adding more value with “super” fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and ancient grains. In conjunction, more bars are carrying references to specific diets, such as “paleo,” or are using terms as “raw” and “simple” to communicate values.

While health and nutrition appear to drive product development, don’t forget that taste, convenience and novelty also are very important—particularly if bars are to compete successfully with other snacks and meal replacements. When it comes to bar flavors, milk chocolate is the most popular flavor in new product development across most regions worldwide. Dark chocolate and cocoa also figured in the top five bar flavors during the second half of 2018.

Increasingly indulgent ingredient blends and flavors also feature strongly. And proving that variety is the spice of life, bar manufacturers tried more savory options as well as sweet/savory combinations. This category also brought more mini and bite-size options in re-sealable pouches or sharing bags.

Overall, it’s clear that the key appeal of all portable, hand held and finger foods is their snackable size with controlled portions for ease of eating—combined with strong and increasingly complex flavors, (particularly ethnic options). Other trends include more plant-based and vegetarian options, often featuring on-trend ingredients such as ancient grains, which can also aid gluten-free formulations.

What’s next? Foodservice markets and menus will continue to provide high levels of inspiration for hand-held and portable appetizers and snacks. This is an area where both chefs and diners are open to experimenting with new flavors, alternative formats and unique influences.

Originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as Snack Attack!