Highway to Health
By Deborah Cassell
To drive sales, a host of competitors are racing to market with better-for-you products that are transforming the cookie and cracker aisle into a healthful, yet flavorful, place to shop.
Taking the lead from bread bakers, the energy bar category and even cereal producers, the cookie and cracker aisle is undergoing some changes, with the addition of new whole grain, trans-fat free, organic and cholesterol-friendly products that address the needs of health-conscious consumers.
The resulting new products are both delicious and nutritious … or so cookie and cracker producers claim. However, the race has just begun, and it’s up to the finicky end consumer to give the green light to products that combine health and indulgence.
With the catchphrase “whole grain” on the lips of every nutritionist, health nut and pop-culture pundit, cookie and cracker producers of all sizes are closing in fast on this market.
Case in point: Last year, category leader Kraft Foods started introducing 100% whole grain varieties of its popular Nabisco brand cookies and crackers, such as Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Chips Ahoy! and Fig Newtons. The whole grain Chips Ahoy! and Fig Newtons contain at least 8 gm. of whole grain per serving; the whole grain Triscuit and Wheat Thins offer at least 16 gm. of whole grain per serving. All four products now are trans fat-free, as well. And, if it’s possible, these more healthful, whole grain products might taste even better than the tried-and-true originals.
Shoppers in search of another hearty whole grain option can turn to Dr. Kracker’s line of artisan flatbread crackers, all of which are made from organic flour and whole grains. Varieties include Klassic 3 Seed, Pumpkin Seed Cheese, Seeded Spelt, Sunflower Cheese, Muesli, Graham and Seedlander. Based in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Kracker features added fiber, Omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Products bearing one of three Whole Grain Stamps from the Whole Grains Council also can be counted on to provide a “good,” “excellent,” or “100% excellent” source of nutrients. Recent stamp recipients include Mary’s Gone Crackers, an Orinda, Calif.-based company whose offerings include seed crackers in flavors such as caraway, black pepper, herb and onion.
|Cookie Brands |
(Current 52 weeks ending Dec. 25, 2005)
|Nabisco Oreo Double Stuf||$124,267.3||+21.5%||3.4|
|Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Original||$118,999.0||-3.3%||3.3|
|Pepperidge Farm Distinctive Milano||$75,895.2||-3.5%||2.1|
|Private Label Chocolate Chip||$75,266.3||+ 13.6%||2.1|
|Nabisco Nilla Vanilla Wafer||$59,336.8||-5.4%||1.6|
|Private Label, All Other Sandwich||$58,628.6||+ 1.2%||1.6|
|Nabisco Fig Newton||$50,394.6||+2.2%||1.4|
|Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Chewy||$41,887.7||-43.7%||1.2|
|Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Chunky||$40,260.2||-5.0%||1.1|
|TOTAL*||$3.641 billion||+ 0.1%||100%|
|*Including brands not shown |
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — F/D/MX (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart)
“Both of these [cookies and crackers] categories saw a big contraction in low-carb and no-carb positioned products in 2005, but a big upward spike in whole grain-formulated products helped pick up much of the slack,” says Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online, a division of Naples, N.Y.’s Datamonitor. “If whole grains didn’t catch fire, both categories would have been way down in 2005.”
Together, the number of new whole grain cookie and cracker introductions grew to 44 in 2005 from just nine the year before, Vierhile notes.
Free From Fat
“Trans fat” was the hot topic at the start of ‘06, following the Food and Drug Administration’s mandate that all food packages disclose trans fat information on their Nutrition Facts labels. Many cookie and cracker manufacturers have taken this opportunity to reduce or eliminate all trans fat from their offerings and introduce even more products sans trans.
This quarter, Kellogg will expand its Keebler Right Bites line, which at present features trans fat-free Chocolate Chip Cookies, with the addition of trans fat-free Fudge Shoppe Fudge Stripe cookies. The line comes in portion-controlled packs of just 90 calories each.
In mid-March, Kellogg will broaden its trans fat-free, mini Gripz line, which currently includes Chips Deluxe cookies and Cheez-It crackers, by adding Gripz Double Chocolate cookies and Gripz Nacho Cheese crackers.
Although a little late on the draw, Kraft finally eliminated the trans fat from its original Oreo cookies, as well as from all its other Oreo varieties, including new Pure Milk Chocolate Covered Oreos (available in two varieties: original and mint). The new trans fat-free Oreo products will start showing up on grocery shelves as soon as stock of the old sandwich cookiess, which Kraft has stopped producing, runs out.
Seeing a huge opportunity in the healthful snacks arena, Kraft has gone one step further toward consumer education with its Sensible Snacking flag, which appears on a variety of its top cookie and cracker brands. The label signifies products that have zero grams of trans fat and are low in saturated fat, sodium, sugar and calories. Sensible Snacking products, some of which are new for 2006, include Honey Maid Grahams, Wheat Thins, Triscuit, Ritz Chips, Fig Newtons, Chips Ahoy! and Oreo. Kraft’s goal is to place 25% of its entire product portfolio under the Sensible Snack banner by the end of 2006, Roger Deromedi, Kraft’s CEO, recently told Wall Street analysts.
Poore Brothers’ salted snack products have been trans fat-free for years, according to Steve Sklar, its senior vice president of marketing. So is the company’s new Cinnabon brand line of cookies.
“We complied way before the laws required it,” Sklar says. Cinnabon brand cookies, which debuted last year, come in Cinnamon Roll Soft Cookies, Cinnamon Sandwich Cookies and Cinnamon Swirl Crisp Cookies.
|Cracker Brands |
(Current 52 weeks ending Dec. 25, 2005)
|Dollar Sales |
|Pepperidge Farm Goldfish||$168,150.4||-0.2%||5.4|
|Nabisco Premium Saltines||$151,690.7||-3.7%||4.9|
|Nabisco Wheat Thins||$145,108.2||+14.7%||4.6|
|Nabisco Honey Maid Grahams||$99,756.5||+6.4%||3.2|
|Nabisco Wheat Thins, Reduced Fat||$87,608.6||-3.2%||2.8|
|Private Label Saltines||$59,196.9||-5.8%||1.9|
|*Including brands not shown |
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc., Total U.S. — Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart
Cookie marketer One Heart (formerly Karen’s Fabulous Foods) went trans fat-free in 2005 and is proud of it, says Alexandra Spirer, vice president of marketing.
“We are promoting zero grams of trans fat on all of our packaging, on the front and back,” Spirer says. “Products with trans fat are going away at a rapid pace. With heart disease and other health issues on the rise, companies are offering their products without any trans fat. With the all-natural and organic trends continuing to grow, products that have no trans fat are being purchased more frequently, and those that aren’t are being phased out of stores for cleaner products.”
Heart health is of concern to many consumers, influencing several manufacturers to lower cholesterol content in their products. For example, RD Foods’ Right Direction Cookies “provide 8 grams of soluble fiber and 2.6 grams of plant sterols” to reduce blood cholesterol, according to company literature.
“In our nutrition counseling offices, we kept getting more and more referrals as cholesterol reaches epidemic proportions in our country,” says Norman Null, co-founder of RD Foods. “When you’re counseling nutritionally, it’s like pulling teeth to get people to change their diets. Right Direction Cookies are an easy vehicle to get people to change. With our cookies, you can eat two a day to lower your cholesterol.”
RD Foods will launch its cookies, currently available in chocolate chip, nationally this year.
Packing It All In
Snack packs that combine crackers with low-fat dips or spreads are one way to help consumers eat healthier. California Garden Products’ Healthy Sultan brand All Natural Hummus with Crackers snack packs appeal to adults in search of more healthful, hearty in-between-meal eats for themselves or their children.
Each package features Carr’s trans fat-free Table Water Crackers, a spoon and 3 oz. of hummus, available in four flavors: original, sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic and spicy. The snack packs are ready-to-eat, preservative- and cholesterol-free, and contain 0 gm. of trans fat. The product is available at select stores and through the manufacturer’s Web site, www.hungrysultan.com.
Convenient, single-serve, portion-control packages such as Hungry Sultan’s — and 90-and 100-calorie pouches and packs from Kellogg and Kraft — definitely are in demand.
“Time will tell if these stick around, but they were [2005’s] big reaction to negative publicity concerning obesity,” Vierhile says.
Certainly, the cookie category has seen a lot of new competition as various companies vie for a share of consumers’ stomachs with either sweet indulgent or savory products.
In a significant move, Hershey Foods Corp. branched beyond candyland to offer consumers a line of premium single-serve cookies based on its popular candy classics: Reese’s, Hershey’s, Almond Joy and York. Moreover, Hershey is able to target the snack bar category by positioning the product as better for you, at least compared to candy bars.
So far, the company is delighted with the single-serve cookies’ performance. Introduced little more than a year ago, each one is covered in real chocolate and targets the grab-and-go consumer.
As Richard Lenny, Hershey’s chairman, president and CEO, told analysts in January, “Focusing on the profitable single-serve segment, Hershey’s cookies and snack bars platforms got off to a great start and clearly support this targeted expansion strategy.”
Lenny added that Hershey was one of the nation’s fastest-growing major companies in gaining market share last year in the confectionary and broader snack categories.
Race to the Healthy Finish
Whether it’s whole grains, trans fat, cholesterol, or portion-control packages that interest consumers, they all revolve around the main issue of health, which dominates the headlines, especially during the first part of the year when it seems that every consumer resolves to lose weight.
“We are always trying to find ways to make our products healthier, as evidenced by our move to trans fat-free in all products, well ahead of other manufacturers,” says Todd Phillips, vice president of marketing for sandwich cracker maker Lance, which went trans fat-free in the first quarter of 2005. “Health remains a big issue.”
The better-for-you trend is gaining strength, and gluten-free could be the next big thing, Sklar says. “It ties into the whole natural and organic foods trend,” he explains.
According to Spirer, there also has been an increase in all-natural, organic and sugar-free cookies on the market, such as those offered by One Heart.
“Consumers are looking for healthier alternatives without skimping on taste and quality,” Spirer notes. In short, as long as health-driven products, whether cookies or crackers, are still pleasing to the palate, the consumer is sure to buy. SF&WB
Straddling the Line
Innovative new offerings such as Snack Factory’s Pretzel Crisps — “The World’s First Spreadable Pretzel Cracker” — are among those products putting the pedal to the metal in the snack food sector. The thin, savory, deli-style crisps are perfect for dipping, spreading or simply snacking on alone. They also are trans fat-free and contain just four ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, salt and malt syrup. Consumers can choose from three varieties: original, garlic and everything.
Brands such as pita chip maker Stacy’s Pita Chip Co. (recently acquired by PepsiCo and now part of Frito-Lay North America) also straddle the cracker/chip line, attracting consumers looking to dip, spread or simply snack.
Other aggressive products, such as Quaker’s new Breakfast Cookies, look to capitalize on the consumer who’s torn between selecting something healthy and eating anything that’s just plain good. Often associated with on-the-go breakfast bar, Quaker now is offering these whole grain, soft and chewy cookies, which are both sweet and nutritious. Each offers 5 gm. of dietary fiber and is an excellent source of calcium and iron. Quaker Breakfast Cookies are available in two varieties — oatmeal raisin and apple cinnamon.