In the three years since the previous International Baking Industry Expo, time has shaken out the food industry fads in favor of the trends. Flavor trends have evolved to keep up with Americans’ ever maturing palates. What makes a healthy snack has been redefined again and again and narrowed down to target specific consumers. Brands looking for room to expand or ways to refresh their name turn to other categories not only for inspiration but also for other categories to which their products could adapt. New product development has been driven by a need to stand out in an ever-crowded supermarket shelf.

Flavoring excitement

As consumers’ palates become more adventurous, bakers and snack producers are pushing the envelope when it comes to new flavors. Manufacturers try to capture shoppers’ attention with unique flavors by pulling inspiration from around the world or combining sweet and savory flavors, one of the latest food trends.

One of the easiest ways to stand out on the supermarket shelf is to simply add bacon. For the past few years, bacon has appeared in the snack aisle as the flavor of the year. Kettle Brands, Salem, OR, used bacon as the savory flavor in its new sweet and savory chip, Maple Bacon. Frito-Lay North America, Inc., Plano, TX, launched a BLT-flavored chip under its Lay’s Classic line and a Loaded Bacon & Cheddar Potato Skins-flavored chip in its new Ruffles Max line. Inventure Foods, Phoenix, takes bacon beyond potato chips with T.G.I. Friday’s Cheddar and Bacon Potato Skins snack chips and a Bacon Cut Fry under its Nathan’s Famous Favorites license.

The current obsession with sweet and salty goes beyond bacon, however. Peanut butter and chocolate or salted caramel also have had a lot of play in the marketplace. In fact, Kettle Brands’ other new flavor is simply called Sweet & Salty, combining cane sugar with natural sea salt. Other companies combine less straight-forward sweet and salty flavors.

“Keebler has a new sweet-and-salty treat for on-the-go snacking with new Peanut Butter-filled Fudged-dipped Pretzels,” said Todd Penegor, president, US Snacks, Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI. “These bite-sized treats are covered in either chocolate fudge or white fudge and packaged in single-serve pouches.”

Other bakers and snack producers look outside their traditional category for flavor inspirations that can help them reinvent their products. Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, CT, took traditional desserts and incorporated them into cookies under its Dessert Shop label. This line features cookies such as Carrot Cake and Dark Chocolate Cheesecake. The company also expanded its Goldfish line to include graham crackers in such flavors as French Toast, Vanilla Cupcake and Fudge Brownie.

Healthier foundations

In 2012, Chicago-based research firm Mintel found that 65% of respondents to a snack survey said they were interested in healthy snacks. To reach these consumers, bakers and snack producers have turned to traditional ways of fortifying products as well as innovative formulations and ingredients to spotlight nutrition. Bakers have shifted from subtracting negative attributes in favor of adding or promoting the positive nutrition in snacks.

“Many people are seeking positive nutrition from their snacks, particularly protein and fiber,” Mr. Penegor explained. Extra fiber and protein are high on the list of desirable attributes in snack food. Organic, natural or healthful ingredients are also on these consumers’ radar.

“Consumer interest is only increasing around health and fitness, organic ingredients and essential nutrients such as whole grain, fiber and protein,” said Michelle Ferguson, executive vice-president of marketing, Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, CA. “Products that meet the needs of today’s consumers will continue to drive growth in their categories.”

Bakers use this trend to formulate products from the ground up with health-halo ingredients such as nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate and, of course, whole grains.

Whole grains are a popular way for bakers to bring a perception of health to their products because they work well in many baked products that use refined wheat. The sheer variety of whole grains also allows plenty of room for creativity for bakers and snack producers. Frito-Lay this year launched Smartfood Selects, a line of popped chips, popcorn and puffed corn. Some of these products have the Whole Grain Stamp for products carrying at least 8 g whole grains. Mondel?z International, Deerfield, IL, expanded its Triscuit line with a number of Brown Rice offerings. The items contain 100% whole grain brown rice and wheat as well as some less conventional ingredients such as beans and sweet potatoes.

Going beyond the potato to other ingredient bases such as beans and sweet potatoes has picked up speed among snack producers hoping to gain a leg-up on healthy snacks.

“There’s a lot of movement toward the veggie snacks, which kind of points toward the mega trend right now of consumers seeking the snacks with benefits,” said Dan McGrady, vice-president of technical services, Wyandot, Inc., Marion, OH. Vegetable powders provide those nutritional benefits consumers look for. Beyond the popular sweet potatoes and beans, Mr. McGrady has seen a variety of vegetables such as carrots and kale used in snacks. These bases can not only provide nutrition but also a unique flavor profile.

Inventure Foods introduced a product made with adzuki bean, an Asian bean fairly unknown in the US, which brings a little excitement. The company looked beyond the snack aisle for inspiration. After seeing the success of hummus, it developed a hummus-based snack from chickpea flour.

Crossing over works both ways, however, and just as snack producers look for inspiration throughout the supermarket, brands outside the snack aisle are starting to invade.

Outgrowing the category

As food companies dominate their current categories, they must look at other areas in which their brands can succeed. These invasions have shaken up categories and supermarket shelves in the past few years.

Just as Mondel?z International took its Oreo brand into snack bars, frozen pies and ice cream, Pepperidge Farm is expanding beyond cookies. The company turned its classic cookies into larger desserts with Milano and Chocolate Chunk frozen cakes.

Kellogg’s Keebler brand brings breakfast to snacking with Cinnamon Roll cookies. These soft swirl cookies feature Cinnabon cinnamon and cream cheese-flavored icing. The brand even encourages consumers to heat them up for a more authentic cinnamon roll experience, making this typically messy breakfast item a portable snack.

This year, Green Giant, the Minneapolis-based General Mills brand known for frozen, fresh and canned vegetables, made the leap to the snack categories with the launch of its Veggie Snack Chips line. “We saw an opportunity to further grow the segment by offering mainstream tasty veggie snacks made by one of the most trusted vegetable brands,” said Michelle Barbeau, marketing manager, Green Giant Snacks. The line currently includes two varieties — Roasted Veggie Tortilla Chip in Zesty Cheddar and Multigrain Sweet Potato Chip in Sea Salt.

Trying to stand out to shoppers, bakers and snack producers have upped the ante when it comes to new product development. Creative flavors attract curious consumers. Reformulating using ingredients with a healthy halo fills the gap in a market where people are becoming more aware of their diets. While these new concerns and competition from other categories can be daunting, these trends toward exciting new flavors and healthier ingredients can mean plenty of creative space for product developers to reinvent the snacking occasion.