Operators step up snacks to meet demand

jack and olive snackboxes

With anytime, anywhere eating the style of the day, snacking has moved beyond a between-meal activity. Instead, it’s sometimes the meal. According to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking Occasion Consumer Tend Report, 39% of all consumers and 57% of consumers ages 18 to 34 say their definition of snacks has changed over the past two years. It now includes a wider variety of foods and beverages. What’s more, snacking has evolved into a 24/7 demand in many operations, especially those geared to millennials and college students.

Operators are taking advantage of this shift, investing more R&D in developing snacks, expanding and upgrading the snack selection, getting creative about packaging and boosting marketing efforts at retail locations. In fact, snacking has overtaken lunch and dinner as the leading meal solution visit at retailers, notes Technomic’s Retailer Meal Solutions Consumer Trend Report.

Photo courtesy of Compass USA

Raising the snack bar

housemade chips

Tracy Cancro, who oversees 2,000 retail outlets at colleges, business and industry settings and other locations for the Eurest division of Compass USA, is elevating the snack program to meet the demands of all-day eaters. Her food choices fall into three buckets: snacks that fuel, snack and beverage combos such as kombucha and hummus, and snacks to grab-and-go at lunch or dinner to eat later. The biggest seller is housemade chips tweaked to local tastes, such as Cajun or regional barbecue, Cancro says.

“Merchandising is a big part of selling snacks,” she says, so Cancro encourages managers to create a marketplace feel and position snacks strategically. Attention-catching displays near the entrance, registers and other “interruption points” may hold infused waters, homemade cookies, energy bars and other impulse buys. Seasonal snacks, grouped on tables, also build traffic. In the fall, for example, Cancro works with the Eurest culinary team to develop housemade pumpkin treats, while berry smoothies tie in with summer.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Packing in health

jack and olive snackboxes

Healthier snacks are also in demand, says Cancro, and Technomic research confirms this trend. Overall, 34% of consumers say they are snacking on healthier foods more often compared to 2016, and 25% plan to snack more healthfully in the next 12 months. Health attributes with the greatest appeal include “high in protein” and “energizing.”

Compass recently launched a line of protein kits and snack boxes for foodservice customers to sell in their coffee bars, markets and other retail locations. A box holding a mini bagel, hard-cooked egg and apple slices meets the growing demand for all-day breakfast, for example, while a chicken pita with veggies is packed with protein. The grab-and-go snacks are marketed under the new Jack & Olive brand and sell for $5 to $7.

“With the market trend toward grazing, we wanted to leverage snacking opportunities in off-peak times,” says Julie Sajda, senior VP of strategic development for Compass’ Envision Group. “We’ve already seen a lift in sales.” The products are going to all noncommercial channels, including B&I, colleges and universities, and hospitals, she adds.

Photo courtesy of Compass USA

Upgrading grab-and-go


Pizza is a staple on the menu at Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis, and while a slice or two can serve as a hearty snack, Monica Wilm, director of nutrition and food services, was looking for something smaller and more innovative to fuel the growing snack program. It also made sense to cross-utilize the frozen pizza dough already in-house. To brainstorm ideas, the hospital partnered with chefs Michael Gunn and Todd Erickson during a recent Schwan’s Chef Collective Hospital Kitchen Collaborative.

“We came up with the idea for pinwheels using the preproofed pizza dough,” Gunn says. The dough is defrosted, rolled into a circle and sprinkled with ham and Gruyere cheese, then sliced and baked. The snack can be served any time of day, hot or at room temperature, has great visual appeal and can use odds and ends of ham and cheese to reduce waste, Gunn says. The team also created a sweet version that can be filled with cinnamon sugar, Nutella or jam.

The savory pinwheels are slated for the hospital’s grab-and-go section, an upgrade considering it’s currently filled with packaged snacks.

Photo courtesy of Schwan's Chef Collective

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