Usage of the term “better-for-you” can be confusing for some, but generally it means taking traditional foods—including many snacks and baked goods that are normally thought of as indulgent, like cookies and sweets—and improving them nutritionally, including cleaning up the label. This can largely be accomplished through ingredient selection.

Better baked goods

Bakers continue to experiment with different grains and flours to improve nutritionals. “The baking industry is very focused on clean label and especially in the bread and roll category,” says David Guilfoyle, group innovation manager, bakery, fats and oils, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “Many restaurants are searching for bakeries that can supply bread, buns and rolls that are clean label in their ingredient declarations.” He notes this also extends to the supermarket.

Bunge, St. Louis, offers expeller-pressed oils and ancient grains for breads. The expeller-pressed oils include Non-GMO Project Verified soy and canola oil, USDA-certified organic soy oil, and high-performance non-GMO sunflower oil. “All of our oils are expeller-pressed, which is a more sustainable approach to making oil versus conventional extraction methods,” explains Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing. “The soy and canola oil is transparently sourced from our family of farms across North America.”

For ancient grains, Bunge offers quinoa, millet and sorghum in a wide variety of ingredient formats. “You can add the heath halo and trend appeal of ancient grains to a wide variety of applications, including breadings, batters, extruded snacks, pizza doughs and more,” says Stavro.

Whole grains, including flax, buckwheat, quinoa and gluten-free oats, are trending. “My go-to ingredients are whole grains,” says Jake Brach, manager, culinary learning and development, Rich Products, Buffalo, NY. He notes these whole grains are all high in fiber and bring many health benefits.

The Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), Washington, D.C., recommends whole wheat, oats, barley and other ingredients, for baked goods. “Whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can give synergy that will complete the protein and give a variety of photonutrients and beneficial fatty acids, while adding fiber,” says Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., LN, CNS, a member of the GFF Scientific Advisory Board.

La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles, uses its non-GMO Fortuna wheat for its Flatbread Crisps. The Crisps are made using single-origin heirloom Fortuna wheat and fresh herbs. “Consumers are looking to buy snacks with easily recognizable ingredients—‘real food.’ When creating our new line of La Brea Bakery Flatbread Crisps, we wanted to launch a snack made from wholesome ingredients, without compromising taste,” says Andrew Blok, brand director. “Consumers are also looking for transparency in their foods. While snacks are often thought of as an indulgence, we’re finding that even when looking to treat themselves, consumers are becoming more selective with the foods that they are buying because of the ingredients.”

Ingredient statements

Consumers are reading labels more and more, and they want to know what they’re buying for themselves and their families.

“Consumers increasingly want to know what goes into their food, and they seek products that contain minimal ingredients, as well as ingredients that are familiar to them,” says Jamie Smith, food scientist, Wixon, St. Francis, WI. “Products made with real food and pantry-type ingredients appeal to consumers’ expectations for clean label, free-from and simple ingredients, all of which are perceived to be healthier, better-for you options.”

Ancient grains and others are ingredients that consumers often look for when purchasing breads and snacks.

“Ancient grains are versatile and can be extruded, flaked, popped and formulated into a variety of snack foods,” remarks Zack Sanders, director of marketing, Ardent Mills, Denver. He notes kernel and flour ingredient formats, including custom blends, are available to add fiber, protein and minerals.

“Fruit powders, spices and herbs are good choices to meet the simple ingredients expectation, as well,” says Roni Eckert, senior food scientist, Wixon.

Citri-Fi from Fiberstar, Inc., River Falls, WI, is a natural citrus fiber derived from the orange juicing process that can provide multiple benefits in baked good and snacks. “Citri-Fi can be labeled as ‘citrus fiber,’ ‘dried citrus pulp’ or ‘citrus flour,’ which resonates with the clean-label and natural markets,” says Kurt Villwock, Ph.D., director of R&D. “Citri-Fi qualifies as a fiber under the new FDA ruling, so it contributes fiber to the nutritional declaration.”

If consumers are looking to eat less sugar, BENEO Inc., Morris Plains, NJ, has a solution: Its chicory root fiber can provide range of sugar reduction, from 10 percent to completely sugar-free, depending on the formulation. “Talking about sugar replacement in baked goods and cereal bars brings some technical challenges, because the characteristics of the sugar need to be maintained,” comments Jon Peters, president. “Most important is maintaining the sweet taste, which conveys the indulgent feeling while enjoying baked goods.”

Nuts have often been a better-for-you ingredient, too, and adding nuts such as almonds to snacks can add protein and “good,” unsaturated fats. “In a survey conducted by the Almond Board of California, 77 percent of consumers perceive almonds to be the most-healthful nut,” explains Jeff Smith, director of marketing, Global Ingredients Division, Blue Diamond Almonds, Sacramento, CA. “They ranked almonds highest among nuts for being nutritious, a key source of energy and heart-healthy—all of which make them a key ingredient in better-for-you baked foods and snack products.”

Protein is another nutrient consumers are looking to increase in their daily diets. “Examination of desired protein amount finds that the largest percentage of bar buyers are looking for products with a moderate amount of protein,” says Satya Jonnalagadda, director of nutrition, Kerry, Beloit, WI. “Protein helps to support healthy body-weight management, satiety, growth and development in children, and bone and immune health.”

Flavors and textures

One concern that may arise in adding better-for-you ingredients is maintaining expected flavors and textures.

In some cases, the new ingredients can improve these qualities. “Ingredients like flax, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and oats have a definite impact on texture when used in a whole-grain form—they add crunch, and a lot of texture, to the finished product,” says Brach. He finds these ingredients more flavorful than wheat flour, when presented in a milled form.

Ingredients like teff, quinoa or Kamut help to create fluffier, more-palatable baked goods, and add a nice crunch to baked snacks like crackers and cookies, comments Jill Motew, president and founder, Zemas Madhouse Foods, Highland Park, IL. “When we eat simple carbs like white rice flour and starches, they tend to ‘sit’ in our guts like a brick, because there is very little nutrition to be absorbed and utilized as an energy source,” she says. For baking, she always recommend incorporating whole grains.

“Unground ancient and whole grains can give desirable texture and flavor to crackers and breads,” comments Kim Cornelius, senior food scientist, Wixon. “Seeds and ancient grains can give extra crunch and flavor depth to salty snacks and crackers.”

Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, ND, offers Suntava purple corn ingredients, with an ancient and proven background of uses in many cultures. The purple corn ingredients can add texture, color and antioxidants to products. “Purple corn can be used in a cracker application as either a fine flour or a coarse meal. The fine purple corn flour with provide a uniform dark-purple color with little change to the overall cracker texture,” says Regina Bertoldo, food scientist. “The coarse purple corn meal will contribute a variation of color with dark purple flecks, and add a gritty texture. These variations in granulation and forms can be used in the same formulation to achieve an interesting combination of texture, flavor and appearance.”

Corbion, Lenexa, KS, offers PRISTINE, its clean-label ingredient portfolio, and ENSEMBLE, drop-in non-PHO emulsifiers, for better-for-you snacks and baked goods. “Developing better-for-you baked goods and snacks can be a challenge for manufacturers when it comes to impacting taste and texture,” admits Kathy Sargent, market director, bakery. “The experts at Corbion developed the PRISTINE and ENSEMBLE portfolios to allow manufacturers the ability to deliver the consistent quality and maintain the taste and texture of their products that consumers have come to expect.”

Ingredion, Bridgewater, NJ, recently launched its PRECISA CRISP series of snack texturizers, which allow companies to create baked snacks with enhanced textures, optimal expansion and reduced breakage. “The PRECISA CRISP texturizer series won’t have an impact on the flavor. However, the texturizer series can allow you to produce light and crispy or hard and crunchy textures, while tailoring the expansion of the snack to match the desired finished product’s texture,” says Ricardo Rodriguez, marketing manager, confectionary and bakery. “This delivers a satisfying textural eating experience.”

Nuts are often go-to ingredients for crunch and texture, as well. Adding almonds to snacks and bakery products can bring out appealing, new textural sensations, says Smith. “The ‘crunch factor’ delivered by diced, slivered or sliced almonds is a good example of this.”

Market perceptions

Perceptions of the better-for-you market, whether from a company’s or a consumer’s perspective, tend to range in opinion.

“The better-for-you market is a good opportunity for companies and their developers to take a step back and think about the ingredients that naturally perform the functions that, in the past, have relied on highly processed and technical ingredients to achieve,” says Kyle Stuart, culinary scientist, Parker Products, Fort Worth, TX.

The better-for-you market has been growing. It’s up 14 percent since 2006, and is forecasted to grow the fastest of three snack categories—better-for-you, savory and sweet—analyzed in a recent NPD Group report, “The Future of Eating: Who’s Eating What in 2018?”

Smith notes that other industry sources have likewise predicted strong growth in better-for-you snacks, likely due to an increase in availability of such products. “Consumer habits favor snacking and eating-on-the go,” he says, and this goes along with a dual interest in healthy living and the pursuit of flavor.

“Better-for-you is a trend that is here today, but will gain in importance, such as fresh, local and artisan products where there is transparency between the producer and the consumer,” notes Brach.

Although “better-for-you” is a broad category of general health-and-wellness that means different things to different people, it is a dominating trend in the industry—and one that will only continue to grow, says Stavro.

And the market is evolving, notes Jonas Feliciano, market research and consumer insights manager, snacks, Kerry. “We are seeing a departure from the traditional diet-related foods like ‘reduced-fat’ and a shift to a more-proactive approach to health-and-wellness through foods that offer improved gut health and immunity.”

One solution for such products is probiotics. “Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they’re eating, and educating themselves on the ingredients in those products,” says Mike Bush, president, Ganeden, Mayfield Heights, OH. “Consumers reported that they’re looking for healthier choices, and ingredients like probiotics help increase purchase interest.”


Sweeteners are a hot topic in better-for-you today. “Better-for-you trends include alternative sweeteners like honey, molasses and fruit sugars,” says Angie Singer, director of sales and marketing, Delavau Food Partners, Philadelphia. “There’s a focus on elimination of artificial or non-clean-label ingredients of all kinds, including flavors, colors and preservatives.”

New Nutrition Facts rules will prompt sugar cuts. “Sugar reduction and sugar replacement—including ‘added sugars’—will be key drivers in the near future,” says Peters. “Additionally, we are seeing an increased interest in the ‘microbiome,’ science that shows the impact of the gut microflora on overall health and wellness. Digestive health is a key trend for the present moment.”

However, consumers are still skeptical of claims that manufacturers make. According to a 2016 Mintel survey, 78 percent believe snacks marketed as healthy and better-for-you are not actually healthy.

“In response to this, many large snack manufacturers are launching new brands within their portfolio, separate from their legacy brands, which focus on healthier snacking opportunities in order to win consumer trust,” notes Feliciano. “The snacks we are seeing as currently trending are those that claim no artificial ingredients, high protein, high fiber, low sodium, a good source of whole grains and reduced sugar.”

These combined traits paint the big picture of better-for-you. “Better-for-you is moving beyond the typical fat and sugar focus and to a more holistic view,” says Jennifer Stephens, vice president, marketing, Fiberstar.

“Trends have shown that consumers are turning a corner,” says Blok. “They crave transparency, and fewer ingredients. They’re not automatically thinking about breads and carbs as being ‘bad’ or unhealthy, but rather recognizing that when bread is made correctly, it’s a nutritious part of a balanced diet.”

Likely candidates

“If you look at what snacks and baked goods are performing best in the market, such as cereal bars, grab-and-go snacks, etc., they’re all candidates for nutritional improvement,” remarks Stuart.

Any type of snack can be made healthier, if needed, suggests Peters. “With smart solutions and the right choice of ingredients, manufacturers can offer healthier baked and snack products that still satisfy consumers’ cravings.”

Sweets are sometimes perceived as an indulgence, packed with empty, unneeded calories, says Nesha Zalesny, technical sales manager, Fiberstar, Inc. “A new category is needed to appeal to a person’s sweet tooth, but provide nutrition, energy, satiety and reasonable caloric content.”

Amanda Wagner, food technologist, Fiberstar, suggests baked goods like muffins and cakes are good candidates for nutritional improvements. “Citri-Fi can help reduce fat in muffins and cakes, while providing similar full-fat textural properties.”

Cookies also show better-for-you potential. “Cookies and brownies are excellent candidates for adding nutritional improvements and maintaining their texture and flavor,” remarks Guilfoyle. “They are perfect for a grab-and-go snack or indulgent treat. Both cookies and brownies can be improved nutritionally with protein addition and whole grains.”

Gluten-free products can also stand some improvement. “In general, gluten-free products are lower in nutrition than similar wheat-containing products,” explains Rodriguez. “The celiac community is well aware of this, but as more and more non-celiac consumers buy gluten-free products and read the nutrition label, they are starting to realize this, too, so there is a demand to nutritionally fortify gluten-free products.”

Nowadays, companies have all of the tools needed to enhance their products. “Enhancing nutritional attributes in products is no longer an ingredient or formulation barrier, but is a matter of innovative formulation and willingness to change process parameters by industry developers,” says Bertoldo. “As consumers become more and more aware of what is grown and consumed all over the world, the interest in novel and sustainable ingredients will also continue to drive the market.”