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    Americans Love Healthy Snacks

    Lifestyle and growing obesity raises demand for healthier food.

    CHICAGO -- Americans eat at least one healthy snack each day, with
    an average consumption of 7.4 healthy snacks per week, according to Mintel, an independent research company. These findings suggest that snacking has become a way of life -- furthermore, 25 percent of respondents say that they snack 10 or more times per week, with an average of more than twice per day, according to a press release.

    The diversity of healthy snacks chosen by respondents is partly due to what consumers view as important health benefits. Consumers say that low fat is the most important health benefit (24 percent), followed by all natural (21 percent), low cholesterol (14 percent), vitamin and mineral fortified (9 percent), no additives or preservatives (7 percent), low sodium (6 percent), and added fiber (5 percent), the research company's release stated.

    Healthy snack sales are estimated to reach $5.5 billion in 2003, a 41-percent gain since 1998. This growth rate is faster than the overall rate for the entire food and beverage industry, as yogurt and energy, cereal, and snack bars grew rapidly and none of the other five segments lagged significantly behind the overall market.

    Consumers seeking healthy snacks have so many choices that the market can absorb product failures and changes in dieting trends. One such trend-shift occurred in the late 1990s, more or less simultaneous with the decline of olestra products. The reigning diet fad at that time was low fat, which gave way in a rush to all-protein diets and carbohydrate counting. Again, the annual rate of sales growth in the healthy snacking market was not much affected, as consumers shifted from low fat and no-fat healthy snacks to those high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

    The healthy snack market operates in a polarized consumer environment. On the one hand, there is a clear trend towards increased obesity, while on the other there is a drive towards increased awareness of health and eating habits. The latter is led in part by aging, and often more educated Baby Boomers, many of which are making efforts to stay fit and active. In addition, there is also a group of younger, sports-oriented youth, to which healthy snacking is part of increased health and diet awareness.

    As a result of this polarization there are two clear markets which the healthy snacking industry needs to address. The first application is a supplement to the diets of overweight consumers, and as part of a changing or controlled eating regime, and secondly, as a part of an already healthy diet for those who are making active choices in terms of health and weight control, the release said.

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