From the Editor: Spring 2016
Taste versus health
By Laura Aiken
Consumers can be a demanding bunch. I want health! I want taste! I want convenience! I want it all! Consumers can also be a confusing bunch, which is what happens when willpower meets want versus need. In turn, it can be difficult to figure out what to offer people trying to balance health and taste, except for the fact that sales tend to speak for themselves.
And, as our profile subject Albert Eskow points out, suppliers are still working on making healthy taste as good as the less healthy counterparts.
Despite all the warnings about high sodium consumption, salty snacks – and potato chips specifically – are still the top go-to snack, as you’ll read in this edition’s feature Packaged snack trends. That being said, the biggest growth is coming from alternatives like veggie or fruit chips, but it is still a relatively small part of the market. This points to a direction in terms of saltier snacks with more nutrition, but also to a simple fact: with sugar and salt both on the naughty list, only one of them is blamed as a harbinger of the obesity epidemic. Does this mean people aren’t eating sweets anymore? No. One need look no further than the litany of “food porn” on the Internet depicting cupcakes, macaron cookies and the like to see the human sweet tooth is well intact. Perhaps there is an internal struggle people are making in their choices: shall I save my sugar intake for dessert and binge out on salt instead? It’s all part of the balancing act. Either way, potato chips and sweets appear poised to stay. Particularly the ones that taste great.
People are still consuming added sugar from beverages, although the reduction of added sugars in the diet was one of the key changes to America’s Dietary Guidelines, updated in 2015. Euromonitor produced “Soft Drinks in Canada” in February and summarized that overall soft drink sales are growing slowly, but craft sodas have some steam. This seems less about health or sugar calories than the appeal of niche products. Premium juices and beverages like coconut water are outpacing overall growth. When it comes to food, perception is everything, isn’t it? Juice is super trendy, and also super full of sugar. I recently spoke with micro market operator Richard Zinck who said energy drinks were his top seller. And they most certainly have added sugars too.
One can only know so much about the individual mental conversations that drive buying decisions, but sales seem to indicate people aren’t done with salt or sugar, yet are increasingly looking for healthier halos under which to consume them, whether the nutrition fact table on the pack truly makes it a healthy snack or not. For vending operators, profitability comes from stocking what the consumer votes for with their wallet, not their best intentions before they are run down and in need of that mid-afternoon pick me up, when willpower is often dwindling under the stress of the 50 or so decisions already made that day.
Do you have a role to play in helping consumers make a healthier choice? Yes – by providing the options for health and at least giving them a chance. You can’t be responsible for their decisions, but you can give them choices. Undoubtedly suppliers are working very hard to make healthier snacks tastier, and the industry ought to support them in that endeavour.