When consumers enter a c-store looking for something to eat, they often want something quick, easy and tasty. But a cleaner ingredient label can differentiate a snack or baked good from other options on the shelf.

Consumers’ definition of better-for-you is lax. It can mean something that’s packed with extra nutrition such as fiber or protein, but it can also refer to an ingredient list that they recognize. This trend toward clean label gives snacks — even those not normally deemed good for you — a healthy halo. Bakers and snack manufacturers can use the trend to deliver acceptable treats that still meet the needs of those walking into c-stores looking to feed a craving.

“Health and wellness is becoming increasingly important,” said Krisanne Flamini, category manager, total snacks, confections and packaged cake, Wawa. “But I think the desire to satisfy hunger and cravings is still important within the c-store, so food manufacturers really need to find that balance. It’s important to have some better-for-you items, but it’s still important that we continue to satisfy our customers’ cravings within the c-store.”

Despite a clean label being a priority for consumers, there isn’t a consensus of what that means.

“Dawn believes there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition of what clean label is, and we operate as a strategic partner to develop custom products that meet their clean label standards,” said Jennifer LaPaugh, senior director, global market research and insights, Dawn Food.

For Dawn’s line of clean label mixes and bases, that means no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners. These products also do not contain partially hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup.

In 2017, Aryzta launched a grab-and-go line of individually packaged cookies specifically for c-stores. These 4-oz cookies adhere to the brand’s No Funky Stuff promise, eliminating artificial flavors and colors, high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils.

Even as shoppers head to food service options for meals they deem healthier, they aren’t fully abandoning c-store snacks, at least not according to Bob Clark, vice-president of marketing, Herr Foods.

“They are definitely still grabbing potato chips as an accompaniment to the sandwich they get on the food service side,” he said.

However, he also sees so much growth for Herr’s kettle-cooked chips because of the movement toward simpler ingredients and old-fashioned methods — another way comfort food can be permissible.

“Kettle chips are growing faster than traditional chips, and that may be because consumers perceive that they are made more simply,” he said. “It’s not to say it’s healthier, but it is simpler.”