Traditionally, the snack food industry was considered more or less a subset of more prominent trends, approached by the consumer as an indulgence or chance to “cheat” on routine. Now and in the future of the snack food industry and packaging trends, we’ve seen a significant shift in not only the greater market share and consumer demand, but the way that snacking is viewed from both consumer and provider perspectives.

No longer pigeonholed as an occasion or treat, many snack foods are receiving a makeover in step with consumer behavior that focuses on a more balanced, active, aware and healthy lifestyle. So in turn, we are seeing a change in some of the foods that are packaged for snacking.

The way that the industry is answering to the demands of the new consumer is evident in recent developments in packaging innovation and design. Not only are the products evolving, but the same trends of demand for portability, time savings (which is why many consumers turn to snacks), fun and more nutritious offerings, are reflected in the packaging. Here are a few of the consumer trends, and how we’re seeing the packaging industry answer the demand:

Consumer trend #1 – Health & wellness:

Consumers are looking for healthier options, paying more attention to nutritional value and the scale of consumption. With that, snack food packaging has provided healthier options as well as more single-serve sizing/calorie packs, such as the 100 count calorie packs, which help consumers enjoy an indulgent snack but still maintain limit on caloric intake. The push to make packages small is not only reflective of the calorie packs, but evident as well in alternate products such as slim cans of soda, or 8-ounce cans. These developments allow consumers to have some indulgence but without the guilt of consuming too much.

A few brands that appear to be leading the charge, providing healthier options and delivering them to customers through an intentional packaging strategy, appealing to the evolved expectation for consumer experience, are:

  • Tree Crisp To Go, offering full size apples in pouch packaging.
  • Happy Squeeze fruit and vegetable squeezable pouches.
  • Clif Bar recently introduced Clif Organic Energy Food in a squeezable pouch with a fitment as part of their “Athlete Series” of products targeted at runners and bikers on the go.

Consumer trend #2 – Personalization & fun:

Consumers are looking for more personalized experiences with the brands they purchase from, and are expecting a more 1-1 unique relationship with the products they choose to experience. Along with more highly defined and involved marketing and social campaigns, product packaging has utilized new technology in digital printing and other advancements to cater to the evolved consumer.

A couple of strong examples include:

  • The instantly classic Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” campaign which creates a playful and personalized way to experience and share a product through multiple channels, printing names, LTO or commemorative labels, etc. to resonate with consumers in various ways.
  • Similarly, Snickers recent Hangry campaign, promoting that “you’re not you when you’re hungry,” has fun with emotional adjectives for shareable moments such as “Loopy,” “Goofball,” “Cranky,” etc. An interesting and bold component of the product packaging though, is that the Snickers logo doesn’t appear anywhere on the front panel, but the font and text are so recognizable to consumers that the product is obvious.

Consumer trend #3 – Raw & transparent ingredients:

As consumers become more actively aware of product ingredients and have a greater understanding of the positive and negative attributes, they have developed a greater expectation for transparency and disclosure with less noise and distractions of what is important to them. This includes literal materials, transparency incorporated into packaging (most often seen in the bar category), as well as clean labels, design and targeted messaging.

A few products showcasing ingredients and transparency include:

  • Showcasing transparency, clean labels with fewer ingredients and “natural” tones (white, light brown, etc.): Clif Mojo bar, Kind bar & Quaker Real Medleys.
  • Breaking down ingredients to raw and open disclosure, Bolthouse Farms introduced a vegetable snack pack with a spice packet within a pouch that the consumer squeezes to break open, and then shakes onto vegetables in a pouch. To appeal to families, the same product is available for children.

Consumer trend #4 – Portability & ease on the go:

With increasingly busy schedules, active lifestyles and demanding expectations, consumers are looking for ease on the go and functional packaging to complement their snacking habits. Some of the most popular and trending developments include flexible pouches for product that would typically be seen in a box or carton and resealable packaging. For example, snacks previously may have been cheese and crackers, while now companies like Bolthouse Farms are putting carrots in snackable pouches.

Additional leading product lines in this category include:

  • Mentos Multi Serve gum with a plastic pull tab rather than a shrink band, making it easier for the consumer to pull off and access. A flip top lid also provides a satisfying ‘click’ sound when it’s reclosed so the consumer has confidence it is sealed.
  • Honey Maid crackers with Fresh Stacks reducing feed waste with portable snacks in smaller portions so consumers can eat a limited number and not have the rest of the crackers get stale.
  • Sabra Hummus provides a single-serve portable pack with different delivery systems.
  • Naturipe provides fruit in a convenient and healthy grab-n-go pouch for office or school snacking.

To learn more about the snack food industry, trends within the segment and innovative new product launches, consider attending SNAXPO next month in Houston, TX. The event runs March 19-22 and is the world’s largest, most comprehensive trade show devoted exclusively to the international snack food industry.