Solving post-lunch tiredness and satiating pre-dinner hunger pangs is an age-old dilemma. When that afternoon slump hits, most consumers are reaching for—or driving to—a favorite fix from the nearest restaurant. With 94 percent of adults reporting that they snack daily, according to data from Mintel, it’s safe to assume the trend of eating between meals is here to stay.
One thing that has changed with snacking, however, is the type of food consumers are looking for when they go hunting for that small bite. Healthier, nutrition-forward foods are taking center-stage on menus industry-wide, and snack foods are no exception.
According to research from Mintel, the conventional snacking market—including items such as fried potato chips and cookies—has declined 2 percent annually over the past three years, while so-called health and wellness snacking has grown 6 percent annually and fresh snacking has grown 8 percent annually.
“Hummus was really the first snack that people looked at as a healthier option than ranch dressing and other high-calorie, low-nutrition dips,” says Adam Wilson, senior culinary manager for Vitamix. “Since it was first introduced to the mass market, hummus has really exploded—and is now available in so many varieties, from savory to sweet.”
In order to keep up with rising customer demands, many successfully quick-service brands have implemented healthier snacking menus, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and housemade products.
“Housemade offerings are a staying trend,” Wilson says, “not just because that’s what consumers are asking for, but because restaurants become more profitable by using as much housemade product as possible to create as many new recipes as possible. For example, operators can create new flavors and maximize profits when they dehydrate produce to create powders for seasoning, pickle vegetables, or reduce herbs to a simple syrup.”
Over the past several years, a particularly popular snack item on menus has been the açai bowl, which grew from a very niche product—available at only a few shops in California, according to Wilson—to now being widely available on menus at quick-service restaurants and prepackaged at convenience stores around the country.
The açai berry is a nutrient-dense food which can be pulped or blended into milk or yogurt and then topped with different fruits, nuts, seeds, protein powders, or even almond butter. With a high-performance blender, operators can blend batches of acai bowls—and other smoothie bowls—and keep them on ice, so they’re ready for customers seeking wholesome snacks throughout the day.
“Anything with protein is considered by consumers to be beneficial,” Wilson says. “Vegetable proteins, in particular, are on the upswing, whether blended into a smoothie or naturally present in a dip like hummus.”
By implementing healthy, housemade snacks onto menus, quick service brands can attract customers throughout the day—not just at traditional meal times.