Monday, November 6, 2017

Top Food Trends Seen at 2017 NACS Show

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.

Amplify Snack Brands, Inc extended its OATMEGA protein bar brand made with grass-fed whey protein into Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and White Chocolate Macadamia cookies. The Chocolate Chip OATMEGA Cookie contains 12g of protein, 330 calories, 12g of sugar, 10g of fiber, and DHA & EPA Omega-3s in 2.8oz cookie. Lenny & Larry’s, LLC offered their Complete Cookie which contains 16g of vegan protein (pea protein, rice protein, vital wheat gluten), 400 calories, 24g of sugar, and 10g fiber in a 4oz cookie in flavors such as Double Chocolate and Snickerdoodle. Honest Kitchens, LLC offered its Bake City COOKIE + PROTEIN whose vegan Espresso Dark Chocolate variety contains 22g of protein (from faba beans), 440 calories, 36g of sugar, and 6g of fiber in a 4oz cookie. Protein bar maker Quest Nutrition showed their Quest Protein Cookies at the show.  The display for the Quest Protein Cookies touted 15g of protein, 3g of sugar, and 12g of fiber per cookie, with the nutritional information varying by flavor. Nature’s Bounty Co’s MET-RX sports nutrition brand offered its MET-RX High Protein Chocolate Fudge Brownie with 24g of protein (soy protein, whey protein, egg white, and milk protein), 300 calories, and 18g of sugar in a 2.8oz brownie. Another high protein brownie was offered by Robert Irvine’s FIT CRUNCH. The FIT CRUNCH Whey Protein Brownie was developed by celebrity chef Robert Irvine and contains 15g protein, 5g sugar, and 190 calories. ThinkThin, LLC, a maker of protein bars, cereal, and powders; introduced the ThinkThin Protein Cakes with 12g of protein (milk protein, whey protein), 170 calories, and only 1g of sugar in a 1.48oz package. ThinkThin offers a dessert substitute through flavors of Birthday Cake, Chocolate Cake, and Red Velvet but minimizes sugar through the use of stevia leaf and monk fruit extracts.

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.

Meat snacks exhibitors at the NACS Show showcased new sticks and meat snack packs that incorporate nuts and cheese. Individually wrapped meat sticks offer better portion control than meat jerky in resealable pouches. Organic Prairie, part of the Organic Valley organic dairy family, offered its Mighty Meat Sticks made with 100% Grassfed Beef that is USDA Certified Organic. Conagra Brands introduced new Slim Jim Premium Smoked Sticks that use either grass-fed 100% beef or 100% premium pork that is raised without hormones. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, owned by Halen Brands, Inc, introduced new Turkey Pepperoni Real Snack Sticks with 60 calories, 2g fat, and 9g protein. Oberto Brands launched new Pepperoni Jerky and Sticks. Link Snacks, Inc added Beef Sticks (made with 100% grass-fed beef) to its premium Lorissa’s Kitchen line that is geared towards women. Perky Jerky offered Beef (made with 100% grass-fed beef) and Turkey Sticks that are claimed to be "59% leaner than traditional sticks". Perky Jerky's sale sheet highlighted that it is targeting M3 = Millennial Moms With Money will drive current and future category growth". 

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.

Adding nuts and fruits also allows companies to reach consumers who are not fans of meat snacks as these provide more textural and flavor variety. Oberto Brands introduced its Trail Mix with Original Beef Jerky that includes nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate pieces at the 2016 NACS Show.  The latest innovation in meat jerky is the PowerBar Jerky & Nut Bar from Premier Nutrition Corporation that appears aimed at consumers who want the high protein content of a protein bar but without a lot of sugar or any artificial sweeteners. The sale sheet for the PowerBar Jerky & Nut Bar states: "Real Jerky. Real Nuts. Really a Bar. 10g of Protein. Made with 100% American Beef. No Artificial Sweeteners". The sale sheet did not list the sugar content of the PowerBar. Also offering flavor and texture variety was the Farmer's Pantry line of meat with crisps. The United Snacks of America line included Chicken & Waffle Crisps (made with chicken breast), Bacon  & Cornbread, and Steak & Frites (beef jerky & French fry crisps).

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.

Plant-Based and Vegan Options

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.

There were a number of vegan options geared toward the light snacking occasion with 5g or less of protein. Tofu producer House Foods sampled its refrigerated GO UMAMI Baked Tofu Bars that contain 5g of protein. GLK Foods, LLC offered GoBitos seasoned roasted chickpeas that have 5g of protein per 1oz serving. Rhythm Superfoods showcased its new Grab & Go Beet Chips and Kale Chips. By coating the Kale Chips with sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, the chips contain 4g of protein per 0.75oz serving. 

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.

Spicy Notes

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.  

On the sweet side, Mars Wrigley showed its new Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat varieties that combine “fruity flavors with a spicy kick” to appeal to young consumers. Starburst Sweet Heat features Fiery Watermelon, Flamin’ Orange, Strawberry Mango, and Pipin' Pineapple. Also at the Mars Wrigley booth was COMBOS Honey Sriracha Baked Pretzel combining honey with the Sriracha hot sauce flavor. NestlĂ© USA sampled its NERDS Lucha Grande Guava and Mango Chile and Guava flavors varieties that are inspired by sweet, spicy Mexican candy and Mexican professional wrestling. Mondelez International introduced Sour Patch Kids Fire that fuses sweet, sour, and spicy notes.