The snacking industry has been one of the few to truly flourish both during and after COVID-19 pandemic-imposed lockdowns, managing to both survive and thrive even in the face of consumer concerns regarding inflation and price hikes.
Data from snacking heavyweight Mondelez focusing on the Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA) region gathered from multiple markets including China, India, Indonesia and Australia has shown that even though 87% of consumers here are legitimately concerned about the impacts of inflation, 81% of consumers here will still find a way to include snacking in their budgets.
The firm also revealed that familiarity has become extremely important to AMEA consumers even as they have to tighten their overall budgets, stressing that this is a key factor for firms to consider even amidst flavour and format innovation.
“We found that 75% of consumers in this region would rather buy fewer of their favourite snack brand than buy a generic alternative, even if it is less expensive,” Mondelez’s then-EVP and AMEA President Maurizio Brusadelli told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Some 73% will go out of their way to find their favourite snack and 72% also said they would pay extra to bring back some of their favourite childhood snack brands – this is all despite the fact that 87% of consumers are very concerned about inflation.
“As such, familiar snacks appear to be particularly important in the current environment.”
Mondelez AMEA Commercial and Strategy Lead Sachin Prasad added that this is likely due to trusted brands having a form of advantage in times of trouble.
“When people tighten their purse strings, they’d always go back to trusted brands, as they are assured of getting the right value for their money,” he told us.
“We know that consumers tend to seek reassurance from brands that they trust, and there are emotional needs that drive them to snacking so we focus on understanding their consumption habits when they feel certain emotions from happiness to anxiety.
“This is crucial to build a real connection, and for consumers to turn to our products when there is that emotional need they want to have filled.”
Drilling down on flavours
Taking a more specific look at flavours and formats though, multinational snacks giant Hunter Foods believes that savoury flavours such as barbecue as well as those that are inspired by real restaurant cuisine-based foods e.g. truffle and foie gras are the way to go this year.
“This goes beyond just looking at a dish and just replicating it in a chip, it is important to identify the essence of what makes the dish special to the consumers and extract this into the flavour to be translated into the snacks whether it be potato or veggie or lentil chips,” Hunter Foods Managing Director Ananya Narayan told us.
“But certainly, going to restaurants and finding out what dishes are now very popular with consumers today is a good way to find out what snack flavours are going to work with them too.
“For instance a major trend we are seeing now is that barbecue is getting very popular, but making these into a packaged snack does not mean just making a barbecue flavour, but getting the elements right e.g. the smokiness, and this was our inspiration for the Smoky Tandoori flavour launched this year.”
Watch the video below to find out more:
Strongly concurring with this observation is longstanding Malaysian snacks firm Miaow Miaow, a brand that has managed to grow from strength to strength against the odds since its establishment in 1975.
“Our internal research has shown that savoury flavours are currently leading - BBQ is one of the top flavours that is high in demand both in Malaysia and the APAC region,” Miaow Miaow Marketing Manager Jessky Hah told us.
“The other standout flavour is Spicy, and based on this data we have tapped into these trends and launch an international spicy delight range, the Miaow Miaow Flame.
“This range consists of a variety of spicy snacks with origins in different countries – some examples include Sambal Balado, Korean Spicy and Curry BBQ.”
Re-emergence of traditional formats and ingredients
A similar trend has been observed in India by local snack brand Gladful, which also sees savoury flavours as the standout currently, but believes that format variety could be an even larger avenue for growth.
“More than half of the snacking market in India is savoury and we are seeing the emergence of various new flavours in this area such as piri-piri, Korean barbecue and Thai Chilli on a mass scale,” Gladful Co-Founder Parul Sharma said.
“The market is being led by homegrown giants like Haldiram with multiple formats such as namkeens, puffed snacks, chips and which are available in millions of stores with price points that can go as low as INR5 (US$0.061) per serve.
“There are several key trends emerging in terms of formats that are driving the snacking market today, some major ones being the increasing acceptability and availability of newer regional Indian snack formats - things like khakhra (traditional crackers), baked poppadums (lentil snacks) and banana chips; as well as the increased popularity of savoury nuts.”
This increasing acceptability of products with a traditional twist is not limited solely to India, or to format innovation – over in Singapore, jerky firm Snack Guru has found that opting to fall back to traditional Asian processing has played out in its favour with the local snacking community.
“Jerky is one of the oldest snacks available, and was traditionally made using sun, wind and smoke to preserve and extend the shelf life of meat whilst maintaining similar nutritional benefits as say pieces of steak,” Snack Guru Co-Founder Jeanne Hong told us.
“Sometimes consumers have the impression that jerky is very processed – and of course jerky does have to go through some processing to be edible - but our Fusion Jerky products are made using traditional Asian techniques instead.
“[We currently] focus on fusing premier meat textures with American flavours, which are also gluten-free, high in protein, low in sodium and contain no preservatives – it is crucial to ensure that there are no artificial ingredients, MSG or preservatives used as consumers today want their products to be delicious and healthy and functional, and we need to keep up with these demands.”
Is healthy snacking truly the way forward?
The healthy snacking category has been growing rapidly in the APAC region for several years now, but many snacking firms believe that when it comes to snacks consumers see these as indulgence items so healthy snacking is not necessarily the future of the industry.
“There is no denying that healthy snacks are trending now - however, we also do see that generally consumers who are snacking and really love their snacks will still purchase the snacks they love in order to satisfy their cravings,” Hah added.
“This is the reason why they overall snacks industry as a whole and not just healthy snacks, are still on a continuous growth curve.
“So we foresee that in this space what will happen is that for snacks as a whole there will be more exciting and different types, flavours, and formats to come – and there will also be more cross-overs, e.g. the introduction of savoury baked biscuits into the snacking segment as healthier snacks.”
Mondelez’s data appears to support this as well, with 80% of AMEA consumers the firm surveyed stating that it is ‘more important than ever to have moments of indulgence in the day’.
“Although health and wellness remains a vital trend, just over half (52%) of consumers say they feel guilty when enjoying an indulgent snack or treat,” Brusadelli added.
“[This is likely because] 84% report they are selective about the indulgent snacks they choose – [a good example of] the role of mindful snacking.”
Sharma on the other hand does see healthy snacking as an important category to target when it comes to younger consumers, but also believes that functional snacking is extremely important in a country like India with high malnourishment rates.
“With young and digitally native consumers, we are seeing a strong rise in healthy snacking which was accentuated during the pandemic,” she said.
“This can be defined in many ways such as high protein, gluten-free, sugar-free etc – but all in all, consumers expect more from their snacks today.
“Within that, seven out of 10 Indian consumers are deficient in protein – and this is a problem we are focused on solving with products like protein bites, cookies and breakfasts to replace the traditional carbohydrate heavy Indian diets via everyday foods.
“[This sort of functionality] is crucial because India has a rising diabetic population, and consumers are now slowly realising that protein and fibre need to be central to their diets.”
What about the sweet snacks?
Although savoury snacks have taken centre stage in this region, there is also an enormous market for sweet snacks from chocolate to cookies.
Better-for-you products have also risen in popularity within this sector, and apart from the more obvious methods such as sugar reduction, the incorporation of added functionality is a major driver.
This can be seen even in one of the most traditional of all sweet snacks – dried fruits. Organic dried fruits brand Sunny Fruit recently launched a range of ‘functional fruits’ enriched with prebiotics and probiotics for gut health as well as other functional ingredients in line with this trend.
“We have added prebiotics or probiotics to the dried fruits by directly imbuing them in order to obtain the biggest benefits, and these are pasteurised via our specially-designed system to ensure that the heat does not affect the probiotics,” Sunny Fruits parent company K.F.C. GIDA Vice Managing Director Neset Kececiogullari told us.
“In addition to these, we have also developed figs and apricots imbued with green tea extract to cater to consumers that are not fond of the tea’s taste, so they can still get the benefits of the antioxidants in it.”
But even without the functional benefits, there is certainly still a strong market for sweet snacks here in APAC – according to Mondelez, 63% of consumers eat chocolate on a weekly basis or more, with 70% saying that it is a ‘staple’ in their diets, meeting a flavour need that is hard to get from other foods.
“[Regardless of the type of snack], digitalisation is increasingly important when it comes to consumers making brand discoveries,” Sharma added.
“It is also worthwhile to note that in markets such as India where there are various tiers of cities, snacking habits in mid-tier markets are dependent to a large extent on factors such as availability and the right price points – and this is a major reason that new formats from large firms are still key in driving change in the sector.”