The National Association of Convenience Stores hosted its NACS Show from October 17 - 20, 2017 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. In this article, I will highlight noteworthy trends in foods that I saw at the show – protein cookies & brownies, meat snacks innovation, and spicy notes. I previously wrote an article on non-alcoholic drinks trends from the show.
Protein Cookies & Brownies
Sales of protein bars are growing as they are consumed by a wide group of consumers beyond athletes and bodybuilders to busy consumers looking to add more protein to their diet as either a snack or a meal replacement product. Dollar sales of nutritional/intrinsichealth value bars grew by 3.4% to reach $2.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended April 16, 2017 in total U.S. multi-outlets according to data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). To build on the popularity of protein bars and expand the number of eating occasions, companies are creating better tasting products that offer the convenience and high protein content of snack bars in a more indulgent (albeit, a higher-calorie and sugar) format. A number of exhibitors offered protein cookies, brownies, and cakes that offer 12+g of protein per package.
Meat Snacks Innovation
Beef jerky has long been a convenience store staple as it offers a convenient, shelf-stable form of protein for workers, hikers, and fishermen. Dollar sales of dried meat snacks grew by 2.9% in convenience stores in the 52 weeks ended May 14, 2017 according to data from IRI. Today’s meat snacks are going beyond beef jerky and becoming more upscale and incorporating other ingredients including cheese. Demand for premium meat jerky, meat bars, and meat sticks has grown as a high-protein, minimally processed snack for health conscious men and women, boosted by the popularity of the Paleo diet and a desire for fewer, simpler ingredients in foods. Additionally, the idea of eating meat as a snack has been boosted by Kraft’s 2014 launch of refrigerated Oscar Mayer P3 Portable Protein Packs that combine Oscar Mayer Selects meats, Kraft natural cheeses, and Planters nuts.
The popularity of meat & cheese snack packs is prompting companies to introduce shelf-stable varieties of meat & cheese/nut plates. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky showed shelf-stable Protein Packs that combine its meat jerky with dehydrated cheese (using a patented process) in its Real Steak Jerky – Original Recipe & Cheddar Cheese variety. Link Snacks Inc created Lorissa’s Kitchen Combos that combine meat jerky, nuts, and dried fruit in varieties such as Moroccan Market. Kraft Heinz introduced a shelf-stable variety of its refrigerated P3 Portable Protein Pack under the Planters brand that includes Planters peanuts, meat jerky, and sunflower seeds.
On the refrigerated side, Kraft Heinz, Hormel Foods Corporation, and Tyson introduced new meat & cheese plates at the show. Kraft Heinz showed new Oscar Mayer Natural Meat & Cheese Plates (with meat, cheese, and whole wheat crackers) and new Oscar Mayer P3 Protein Plates (with meat, cheese, and dried berries). Hormel introduced its Hormel Natural Choice snacks that are made for on-the-go snacking with meat, cheese, and dark chocolate-covered treat. Tyson extended its Hillshire Farm Small Plates line to include varieties with Beef and Pork Cuts. The small plates are inspired by wine & spirit flavors and include seasoned beef or pork and cheese in Smoky Bourbon, Whiskey & Brown Sugar, and Apple Chardonnay varieties.
There was no shortage of beef jerky, fried chicken, hot dogs, and sausage pizza at the show. At the same time, there were quite a number of companies offering plant-based foods to capitalized on the growing interest in plant-based foods due to ethical and health reasons. On the high protein end of vegan foods were EVOLVE and OWYN. CytoSport Holdings, Inc, owned by Hormel Foods Corporation, offered both its dairy-based MUSCLE MILK and its new EVOLVE plant-based protein brands at the show. The company offered EVOLVE ready-to-drink Protein Shakes made with 10-11 ingredients including 20g of pea protein, Protein Powder, and Protein Bars. Another clean label protein shake at the show was Halen Brands, Inc’s OWYN (Only What You Need) line. OWYN offered its line of Ready-To-Drink Shakes that contain 20g of plant-based protein from pea, pumpkin, and flaxseeds per 12oz serving. Vega, the maker of vegan protein powders and snack bars owned by Danone, offered Vega Protein + Snack Bars that are certified vegan and contain 10-11g of plant-based protein from peas, rice starch, brown rice, and hemp seeds. Premier Nutrition Corporation who introduced the PowerBar Jerky & Nut Bar at the show also sampled its PowerBar Plant Protein bars that contain 10g of protein from cashews, pea protein, rice flour, rice protein, pumpkin seeds, and cashew butter. Nature Delivered Inc, owner of the graze snacks and snack subscription box program, offered its Veggie Protein Power variety with 9g of protein from edamame beans, spicy chickpeas & black pepper cashews.
Gaea, a Greek company that specializes in Mediterranean products, introduced Veggie Snacks in Carrot, Cauliflower, and Gherkin varieties in recloseable pouches. Similar to its Gaea Olive Snack Packs, the Veggie Snacks contain no preservatives. Products aimed at health conscious parents included Materne’s GoGo squeeZ applesauce pouches and Brands Within Reach’s N.A! Nature Addicts Fruit Sticks – both of which contain 100% fruit and no added sugar, colors, or flavors.
Americans, especially younger ones, are embracing spicy flavors as they like to visit ethnic restaurants where Thai Sriricha, Korean gochujang, Moroccan harissa, and Yemenite Zhug hot sauces can be found. Exhibitors at the show incorporated spicy notes into both savory and sweet products. On the savory side, Picadilly Circus Pizza offered up samples of its Nashville Chicken Pizza, inspired by the popular and spicy Nashville Hot Chicken that is showing up on restaurant menus outside Nashville, Tennessee. Green Chile Food Company had a wide range of Southwestern frozen burritos (handmade in New Mexico) including the spicy Beef & Bean Burrito with green chile, cherry tomato salsa, and cheddar cheese. Another company to feature New Mexico’s chile peppers was Hormel Foods, LLC who offered the Hormel Hatch Chile Link that mixes pork sausage, scrambled eggs, cheese, and Hatch chiles from New Mexico in a sausage link.