When it comes to snacking, consumer behavior has been focusing on quantity: smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day as opposed to the traditional three squares. But recently, the trend has become qualitative as well. It’s not just about snacking as an alternative to full-blown meals; snacks themselves are now facing demand for better-for-you options such as clean and healthy ingredients.

In 2018, PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies, released “Snack Foods — Packaging and Processing Market Assessment and Trends.” According to the report, better-for-you is the fastest growing demand consumers are placing on their snack food purchases. The report indicated that the global healthy snack market reached $21.1 billion in 2016, and the compound annual growth rate is expected to reach 5.1% over the next few years.

PMMI indicated this rapid growth will result in snack producers’ need for lines dedicated to healthy snack production.

“There are times that your current setup may not be suitable,” said Lance Aasness, executive vice-president, Hinds-Bock. “We encounter this mainly with companies that offer allergy-sensitive products like nut-free.” In this case, having disciplined procedures or dedicated equipment is necessary.

Regardless of the line, producers must first remember that change is key for healthy snacks.

“One of the main challenges is that better-for-you snacks don’t have a fixed ingredient,” said Jorge Izquierdo, vice-president, market development, PMMI. “It’s a series of ingredients that changes frequently. It could be blackberries today, chocolate next week or even radishes a few weeks from now.”

When the ingredients change, Mr. Izquierdo observed, how the snacks are manufactured can vary as well. That includes processing, mix times or even the required pressure to make the product, not to mention sanitation concerns.

“Studying and understanding the basic cooking characteristics of a snack is very important,” said Don Giles, director of sales, processing systems, Heat and Control. Knowing how a better-for-you snack fits into a product portfolio and production line is critical for success.

As quickly as the better-for-you snack market is changing — and as quickly as the popularity of different i­ngredients can change — snack producers will fare well to build flexibility into new production lines, regardless of what they’re making today.

Sure, a company can incorporate healthy snacks into a traditional portfolio with most, if not all, of its existing equipment. But, as Mr. Aasness suggested, certain types of equipment might require retooling such as custom spouting or hopper agitation.

“For mini or single-serve products, it could just be a matter of retooling the current equipment with new depositing spouts,” he said. For custom products that completely deviate from a company’s more traditional items, Mr. Aasness suggested that new equipment specifically designed to accommodate the project scope may be required.

Sometimes, changing up a snack on the same production line might simply require small tweaks to the formula without adjusting the equipment much at all.

“Many new products can be produced on an existing processing system with the addition of inclusions and using corn masa as the base ingredient,” Mr. Giles said. “For example, bean, rice, pea and/or sesame can be added to corn masa to create a new and different product on an existing tortilla chip processing system.”

Other times, adjusting equipment can lead to big changes. For sheeted snack crackers, Reading Bakery Systems (RBS). designs many of its sheeting lines using three-roll sheeters and roll-speed differentials to accommodate doughs that are sticky or perhaps lack the gluten structure of a ­traditional wheat-based dough.

“What we found working with potato products, for example, is that a three-roll sheeter will typically work dough less than a four-roll sheeter, thereby keeping its integrity intact and yielding an improved finished product,” said Ken Zvoncheck, ­director, process technology, RBS.

Processing dough is also made easier through programmable controls to adjust roll-speed differentials on individual gauge rolls. Mr. Zvoncheck noted that a traditional cracker line would typically sheet dough with a standard, fixed 5% speed differential so the bottom roll is turning 5% faster than the top, as dough typically sticks to the fastest roll. But formulas that diminish gluten structure may need something other than 5% to maintain dough integrity as it is reduced to its desired thickness.

These variable speed roll differentials allow the operator to optimize the sheeting for a particular dough by simply finding this optimum roll-speed differential through adjustments on the touchscreen. Both features — three-roll sheeting and roll-speed differentials — allow a much wider range of doughs to be processed on the system vs. traditional sheeting lines producing only wheat-based doughs.

Extruders are, by design, quite flexible, said Mike Shaw, sales account ­manager, snacks/cereals, Bühler, Inc.

“Our extruders are very flexible in terms of running traditional snacks and new, innovative type snacks,” he said, noting that process parameters can be changed with ease, whether it’s screw speed, changing screw profile configuration, liquid or steam injection or die design. “You’re controlling the thermal mechanical energy of the process because some products need more thermal energy and some need more mechanical energy from the friction in the screws depending on the desired finished product attributes.”

With Franz Haas’ equipment, bakers making traditional wafer products can easily incorporate ­better-for-you snacks into their wafer production line.

“The technology is very easily adaptable,” said Kevin Knott, technical sales manager for the company.

Equipment typically used for flat or hollow wafers that require aeration can be modified to produce stackable baked products with low fat and low density and come in a variety of shapes and textures.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on snack technology, click here.