Health and wellness may be all the rage — the buzzword phrase of the moment — but today’s consumer attitudes around food go beyond cutting out sweets. “In the 1990s, many snacks had low-fat, non-fat and low-carb claims, but in recent years, health goals like ‘total wellness’ and ‘everything in moderation’ have dominated,” said Kelly Kees, global consumer insights associate, General Mills, Minneapolis.

While people might want more fruits and vegetables, they aren’t willing to give up their sweet and salty snacks either. They’re compromising by still indulging but with smaller portions. And when it comes to desserts, it’s not necessarily about adding nutrients to sweets. Consumers expect their sweet treats to be delicious, not healthy, so they expect quality products over large servings.

“People’s taste overall in foodservice has gone up drastically, and people’s expectations are so much higher,” said Mario Spina, CEO, The Pride Stores, Warrenville, IL. “That’s just the consumer now.”

Snacking has become a part of the daily diet. According to research firm DataSsential, Chicago, 91% of adults snack at least once per day, and 45% of consumers replace one or two daily meals with a snack. This kind of consumption requires snackers to take notice of what they’re eating. Snacking is no longer a mindless activity. Snacks are chosen with the intention of fueling the body.

“Time-stressed consumers are looking for foods to provide multiple benefits versus just curbing hunger,” said Abby Panfil, director of sales strategy, convenience channel, Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI. “Therefore, snacks are serving more intentional, specific roles in our lives, and consumers are visiting convenience stores looking for snacks that provide sustenance and energy.”

While consumers are definitely looking for healthier snacks in portable, portion-controlled packaging, healthy eating doesn’t mean what it used to. Today, the phrase trends more toward an “everything in moderation” mentality rather than strict abstinence from sweets and snacks.

“Our customers continue to talk about eating healthier, and no one is on a ‘diet’ anymore, so portion control is a great way to accomplish that goal,” said Steve Sklar, senior vice-president, general manager, snack division, Inventure Foods, Phoenix, AZ.

Just because they’re eating more vegetables, doesn’t mean consumers aren’t eating their cake, too. “Health and wellness are important across consumer segments, and this trend continues to grow,” said Debbie Marchok, vice-president of marketing, The Eli’s Cheesecake Co., Chicago. “At the same time, they also like to indulge. Portion control allows consumers to ‘have their cake and eat it too.’” 

Consumers are more aware of what they’re eating than ever before. Information about their food is at their fingertips. People are reading labels, eyeing ingredient lists and counting calories.
“With the obesity epidemic we have in this country, people want to be aware of the amount of calories they are eating,” said Steve O’Donnell, managing partner, Hill Country Bakery, San Antonio, TX. “They don’t want to overeat, and they want to have a general awareness of what they are doing.”

With an emphasis on total wellness, moderation and clean ingredients, people are less interested in cutting out carbs, fat and sugar and more about allowing small indulgences to get themselves through the day. Portion-controlled packaging does the moderating for them.

“Rather than completely forgoing sweet or salty treats, consumers are more willing to indulge but in smaller quantities,” Ms. Kees said. To answer this trend, General Mills started offering smaller, single-serve “slampack” resealable packaging for salty snacks and Pillsbury Minis Package Bakery items: four poppable baked goods in clear, resealable packaging.  
General Mills’ slampacks are single-serve portions in resealable pouches, making them easy to eat on-the-go, such as in the car. The company offers slampack packaging across several platforms: nuts, seeds, trail mix, pretzel and salty snack mix. General Mills recently launched products exclusive for the c-store channel: Chex Xtreme slampacks in Spicy Sriracha and Hot Chili & Lime flavors.

Sweet goods and desserts benefit from smaller portion sizes, too. “With our products, because they are more indulgent, you don’t need as much to be sated,” Mr. O’Donnell said of Hill Country’s individually wrapped sweet goods. “The more indulgent or sweet the item, the less a customer needs to eat of that product to feel fulfilled or fill the urge for sweet.”

Joan Axelrod Siegelwax, executive vice-president, Love and Quiches Gourmet, Freeport, NY, echoed that sentiment: “Smaller snacks can help quell one’s cravings for a taste of something sweet without overdoing the calories or breaking the piggybank in the process. Portion control prevents overindulgence and can give consumers the opportunity to experience products that they normally could not replicate at home.” Love and Quiches aims to fulfill that “permissible vice” role with its individually wrapped Grab and Go line of brownies, which come in varieties such as Rainbow Brownie, Cookies & Cream and, the latest, Triple Chocolate Brownie.  

The Eli’s Cheesecake Co. has experienced continued growth in the marketplace for its mini pies and “cuties,” miniature dessert bars and cheesecakes. The company uses a 100- and 200-Cal guide when developing products for these platforms. “From cheesecake to dessert bars to mini pies, we are able to deliver a portion-controlled dessert,” Ms. Marchok said. “Even for our 9- or 10-in. desserts, we pre-cut the cheesecake slices to deliver a desired serving portion.” In convenience stores, where shoppers typically grab a snack or sweet treat to satiate themselves quickly, a portion-controlled muffin, Danish, cheesecake or trail mix can prompt shoppers to indulge without guilt.