Welcome to our latest Ask an Expert series!

Today we’re chatting with Nadia Jackson, director of retail for North America for Sodexo, which provides food service for universities, schools, corporations, hospitals and more.

Given that snacking is on the rise with everyone working from home, and now, schooling from home, Nadia is giving us her expert insights into the snack space—what’s trending, what’s popular, and most importantly, what’s getting noticed by snack buyers.

What are the trends in the snack space right now? What about ingredients? Anything standing out more than others?

People are snacking more and, what is now defined as a snack, has expanded considerably beyond traditional chips to include everything from beverages to yogurt. Consumers believe that anything can be a snack if the serving size is small.

Trends continue in BFY (Better For You), ingredients that are “clean” (All natural, non-GMO, Organic), and Functional – like caffeine- as consumers look to gain benefits from snacks. Plant-based, Protein, Caffeine, Global Flavors (spicy, bold) are prominent in the space, with combinations of two or more at times.

Additionally authenticity, with respect to ingredients, is also significant as almost half of consumers want flavors exactly like it is in the country of origin. Authenticity, however, also encompasses a product’s brand promise and can include commitment to sustainability, ethical practices or even social causes like Black Lives Matter, which are important particularly among Millennials.

All of these trends are intertwined, but for me, I see protein and plant-based as the biggest trends impacting the snacking (non-beverage)space. Everything from Spicy Queso bean-based chips to Habanero roasted chickpeas are examples of the combined trends – with protein at the forefront, along with, spicy flavors.

Equally note-worthy is the plant-based trend. The shift to meat analogue products includes items like plant-based burgers and jerky, to dairy-free products using oats as the base ingredient for milk and even sunflower seed oil in ice-cream!

Functional snacking is a strong top contender, and I would be remiss not to mention caffeine as it has emerged in chocolate bars and even sparkling water!

Now that snacking is a more crowded space, how is important is packaging and design?

Packaging and design are critical because consumers are constantly bombarded with advertising, and competition among brands is stiff- both in the aisles and on the virtual shelf. People are extremelyvisual and packaging innovation will help to sell a brand at the precise moment a consumer is ready to buy.

It is imperative that brands convey their product appeal – whether that is healthy claims (all-natural, non-GMO, Organic ) flavor or sustainability- to stand out in a clutter marketplace. In addition the trend of consumers constantly on-the-go makes resealable packaging important, along with, modified packaging to increase freshness or shelf-life.

How has Covid-19 affected purchase decisions?

In the early days of the pandemic there was so much fear and uncertainty, that it led to mass panic and purchasing. I recall, in my local stores, many empty shelves as consumers rushed to buy any and everything while companies scrambled to stabilize supply chains.

Initially, consumers leaned towards comfort foods and canned items, but as the world adjusted to life with Covid-19, trends that were occurring prior to the pandemic (like clean ingredients and plant-based foods) continued.

Sheltering in place, while increasing incidences of home cooked meals, did not decrease snacking. It has even positively impacted sales for categories related to baking, cereal and yogurt causing them to spike.

As facts about combatting the virus emerged, consumers’ concerns with the ability to manage underlying conditions and boost immunity has risen to the forefront. Foods with ingredients or benefits that are helpful with immunity are gaining in popularity.

Where do you often find new products?

Here are a few ways:

  1. They find me! Companies sometimes contact me, or someone in my organization, to introduce their brand and send samples.
  2. Tradeshows. Covid-19, unfortunately, has impacted tradeshows, but prior to the pandemic I attended quite a few. Not only did I enjoy learning about new products, but also interacting with the Founders to understand “the why” behind the creation.
  3. Shopping Trips. Often times companies launch first in the Grocery/Mass channels to establish brand recognition, volume and their supply chain. Anyone who knows me, knows I can’t just shop. I frequently go “off-list” and find myself wandering the aisles to see what’s new out there, but not yet available in Foodservice.
  4. Instagram. I love to scroll through to see what products have outstanding social media marketing, brand messaging and authenticity. And if it’s really cool, I’ll reach out to our distributors to secure samples and initiate a conversation to partner.

There you have it! Thank you, Nadia, for the expert insights into the snack retail space. For more on Sodexo and what they do, go here.

Got other questions about the snack space? Email [email protected] and we’ll help you get it answered.