When it comes to food trends, consumer interest in better-for-you products continues to grow. The desire to improve their overall health and well-being is prompting many Americans to be more selective when it comes to the foods they buy and eat, including baked goods and snacks. Instead of automatically placing a familiar product into their shopping cart, consumers are now scrutinizing its label for unpronounceable ingredients, artificial flavors and colors, GMOs and high levels of sweeteners and sodium.

Clean and nutritious

“When we look back at the past five to 10 years, it’s difficult to think of any other trend that has dominated the food and beverage industry more than the consumer shift toward health-and-wellness and better-for-you foods,” says Abby Ceule, director, market management breads, Corbion, Lenexa, KS. She notes that while many factors are driving this trend, the company has noticed that consumers seem particularly focused on clean label/label transparency, free-from and nutritional content.

“The clean-label trend is driven by ingredient-focused consumers that skew toward the belief that the shorter the ingredient list, the healthier the product,” Ceule explains. “These types of consumers are paying more attention to what goes into the products they consume, looking at labels and striving to make more-educated purchase decisions.”

The free-from trend, Ceule says, is driven by consumers looking to completely cut specific ingredients or additives from their diet or eat less of them. “Originally, consumers pushing this trend were doing so for medical purposes,” she adds. “However, as time’s gone on, we’ve seen this expand into part of the overall health-and-wellness trend.”

Consumers purely focused on the nutritional aspects of food products tend to investigate the products’ Nutrition Facts panel and often place more importance on general health and dieting, Ceule says. “The length of the ingredient list is less of a concern to this group,” she notes. “Instead, they are more likely to look at only the first few ingredients in a product and are interested in food items with higher levels of protein, fiber or specific vitamins and minerals, and items with lower levels of calories, fat or cholesterol.”

According to Amanda Wagner, food technologist, Fiberstar, River Falls, WI, consumers are not just looking to improve their health by choosing foods with less sugar, fat and overall caloric content, they’re also looking for products that support overall well-being. “Overall well-being is triggering consumers to read ingredient statements to understand what they are putting into their bodies,” she says. “Not only is the ingredient statement recognition important, but also the number of ingredients used.”

Brian Gaffney, vice president, dehydrate sales, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients (CIFI), Nashville, NC, says consumers want foods that will support their health goals, and are rich in nutrients and free of body-damaging substances. “More fundamentally,” he adds, “consumers want foods they can trust—not just products that make them feel healthy, but that they feel are safe, high-quality and sourced from the best places and providers.”

CIFI’s sweet potato ingredients address all those needs, Gaffney says, by providing great nutrition and a safe, traceable supply of ingredients sourced and processed in North Carolina. They also support clean labels and are non-GMO.

According to Gaffney, a recent North Carolina State University survey showed that 95 percent of consumers see sweet potatoes as a healthy food, and 67 percent would pay more for products containing sweet potatoes.

Consumers also consider blueberries a healthy, antioxidant-rich food and, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC), Folsom, CA, view the blue orbs as a value-added ingredient linked to heart health, antiaging properties, cancer prevention, improved eyesight and better memory. It’s not surprising, then, that consumers seek out blueberry-containing foods.

The overall movement of consumers from a reactive mentality about health-and-wellness to a proactive approach is significantly impacting the food industry, says Janelle Crawford, bakery industry leader, North America, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “Globally, 83 percent of consumers believe that diet and nutrition are important factors that contribute to overall well-being,” she explains. “With this in mind, we see consumers shopping for products that help them live active and healthy lifestyles. They are gravitating to products with low-sugar content, higher protein and fiber content, and overall cleaner labels.” She adds that many people are also beginning to recognize the benefits of probiotics and seeking out foods and beverages containing them.

While Americans of all ages seem to be re-examining their eating habits, Jim Saunders, CEO, Ingredient Alliance Inc., Hawthorne, CA, contends millennials are driving the better-for-you trend, as well as demand for healthy, plant-based and organic options. He cites these consumers’ interest in sustainable farming methods and concerns about the energy demands related to animal-based foods as factors.


Better weight management

For millions of Americans, improving their overall health and well-being is tied to losing or managing their weight. Better-for-you products made with healthier ingredients, less sugar and extra fiber or protein can often help these consumers achieve their dietary goals, while still enjoying flavorful and filling foods.

“Weight loss is often top-of-mind when consumers reach for better-for-you products,” says Christine Cochran, executive director, Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), Washington, DC. “Fiber is becoming the new protein, with more consumers looking for fiber to aid in weight loss and contribute to overall health. In addition to being an essential nutrient and aiding in weight loss, fiber can also provide health benefits, such as helping to lower the risk of heart disease, control blood sugar levels and aid in digestion.”

Consumers actively managing their diets for weight loss or maintenance are looking for nutrient-dense foods that also contribute to satiety, says Jeff Smith, director of marketing, Blue Diamond Almond Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, CA, adding that “almonds deliver on all counts.”

An ounce of almonds contains protein (6 grams), fiber (4 grams), calcium (75 milligrams), vitamin E (7.4 milligrams), riboflavin (0.3 milligrams) and niacin (1 milligram).

Replacing inexpensive, marginally nutritious ingredients with fiber, protein and other beneficial ingredients can result in higher retail prices for these products. Gwen Bargetzi, director, marketing, Hilmar Ingredients, Hilmar, CA, says this isn’t an issue for some consumers. “While fortification can make some foods more expensive than their traditional counterparts, savvy consumers understand the value of a better nutritional profile,” she maintains. “Many are actively seeking inclusions such as protein and fiber for health maintenance and satiety.”


Demand and supply

So what kind of better-for-you snack and bakery products are consumers requesting? And what type of ingredients are suppliers offering their customers to help them create more better-for-you baked goods and snacks?

Bargetzi sees growth in baked goods offering improved nutritional content, such as fortified breads, waffle and pancake mixes, and breakfast cookies. “There is opportunity for all types of baked goods and snacks to go beyond the ‘expected’ sources of nutrition, like snack bars,” she says. “While consumers are looking for familiar foods to satisfy their cravings and be acceptable to family members, they also want those foods to offer a nutritional enhancement.”

Hilmar Ingredients manufactures and markets a range of functional whey proteins, many of which provide specific benefits to baked goods and snacks, including bars, says Grace Harris, director, applications and new business. The company’s Hilmar 7000 series, for example, includes whey protein concentrates that can replace egg, while its whey protein hydrolysates can help with bar softening and shelf life.

Brook Carson, vice president, product development and marketing, Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, KS, says many bakery and bread products are looking to add healthful ingredients beyond whole grain, such as added fiber or protein, or inclusions, such as nuts and seeds.

Manildra Group USA was first to market with organic vital wheat gluten nearly a decade ago, Carson says. “Since then, we have continued to develop and optimize organic wheat starch and protein products to provide a range of functionality,” she says. “Protein is in high demand across all product categories. Protein is a good fit for baking and snacks because bakery and snack products are already an important part of the diet. It is adding important nutrition to an already nutritious product.”

Manildra Group’s Organic GemPro HPG is a higher-protein gluten that provides more strength and structure to bakery products. Its GemPro 3300 products contain up to 90 percent protein and can be used in applications ranging from pancakes to flatbread and whole-grain breads to layer cakes.

Other ingredients can also improve the eating quality of foods. Manildra Group’s Organic Gem of the West can help bakers improve the texture and mouthfeel of organic bakery products. “Organic has a great opportunity for growth and is seen as better-for you,” says Carson. “Organic breads have taken off, but other product categories—tortillas, rolls, buns, crackers—still have a lot of opportunity.”

Carson says a lot of innovation and new product development are also happening in the snacks category. “Consumers seem to be more willing to try something unique and different for a snack,” she adds.

According to the NPD Group’s report“The Future of Eating: Who’s Eating What in 2018?,”consumption of better-for-you snack foods is up 14 percent since 2006, and is forecast to grow the fastest of the better-for-you, savory and sweet snacks categories. “At Blue Diamond, we’ve seen this growth reflected in almonds being used in formulations for snack bars, granola-type snack mixes and crackers, and in baked goods that might use almond flour or sliced or diced almonds as a topping,” says Smith.

“Functional foods is where we are seeing the most growth—plant-based proteins and digestive health, including prebiotics, probiotics, inulin and satiety,” says Saunders. Ingredient Alliance offers a variety of products to help bakers and snack producers develop such products, including complete plant protein; hemp, quinoa, chia and flax seeds; oil blends; and flours.

According to Wagner, Fiberstar currently is seeing an uptick in requests for gluten‐free, reduced-fat, reduced-egg and clean-label solutions for use in bakery and snack formulations. Citri-Fi, the company’s non‐GMO, natural citrus fiber product, has an intact fiber and protein composition that provides natural emulsification properties for reducing eggs in formulations. “This natural citrus ingredient also can reduce up to 25 percent oil in baked goods, while maintaining moisture, full-fat mouthfeel and quality over shelf life,” she says.

DuPont also offers a variety of products that can be used in baked goods, says Crawford. Its Supro line features soy protein isolates that are useful for fortifying baked good with protein. Fibrim 1270, a mixture of soluble and insoluble soy fiber, holds waters and, therefore, can be helpful in frozen baked goods, microwave products and products subjected to drying conditions. Litesse, a low-calorie sugar replacer, can be used to replace a portion of sugar in baked goods. 

Bakers and snack manufacturers will find a variety of products at Corbion to help them produce better-for-you baked goods and snacks. “For customers looking to clean up their bread labels, we offer Pristine, a complete line of dough conditioners that can reduce the number of ingredients on ingredient lists,” explains Ceule.

Corbion’s customizable Nutrivan fortification blends can help bakers formulate products that meet the needs of nutrition-focused consumers, while its non-GMO and gluten-free items can help them create products for free-from consumers. The company’s recently launched preservative-free, pre-soaked grain line allows bakers to incorporate ancient and whole grains into finished products without having to soak the grains overnight. “Our pre-soaked grain line works well in a variety of applications, including white and wheat breads, artisan breads, buns, rolls, bagels and even bars,” says Ceule.

“Consumers may not initially realize it, but ancient grains such as Kamut, farro, amaranth, teff and quinoa, which have again become popular in recent months, are good ingredients for baked goods and snacks,” says Cochran. “In fact, Packaged Facts reports that as of September 2015, nearly a fifth of American adults had purchased menu or grocery items featuring ancient grains in the past 30 days. Ancient grains can be used to make healthier versions of some of our favorite foods.”

Whether consumers are trying to improve their overall health or manage their weight, they’ll find more better-for-you baked goods and snacks from which to choose in the coming months. And unlike diet-specific products relegated to smaller, hard-to-find section in grocery stores, these newcomers will be easy to find, as they assume shelf space alongside long-time favorites in all categories.