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CHICAGO -- The Food Channel released its top 10 snack trends report, prepared in conjunction with CultureWaves, Mintel International and the International Food Futurists.
"These trends are meant to inspire your back-to-school snacking," Kay Logsdon, editor-in-chief of The Food Channel, said in a statement. "But they also show how people are eating today, with smoothies and energy bars functioning as meal replacements, and grazing with small bites throughout the day -- sometimes never even sitting down to a meal."
According to The Food Channel, the top ten snack trends are:
-- Chip and dip 2.0. New varieties and flavors are giving consumers something different. It's likely to find hummus and falafel chips or pretzel crisps at the next party instead of the traditional chip-and-dip duo. The dips are healthier, spicier and often served hot.
-- Small and sensational. Consumers are eating more substantial snacks packed with protein as meal replacements, and eating them more often. For pick-me-ups, people may grab a slider at Steak 'n Shake, or a Big Mac Wrap at McDonald's. Come dinnertime, they may graze some more, but by today's definition, snacks may be all they need.
-- The drink shift. This trend is all about the "halo of health" around drinks made with fruit or antioxidants. There is a shift in snack beverages away from colas and energy drinks and more toward teas, lemonades, fruity organic waters and carbonated fruit drinks with interesting flavor combinations. Plus, there's the trend away from high-fructose corn syrup and back to sugar that some soft-drink makers are spinning as a "throwback" move.
-- Goin' nuts. Snacking habits are adjusting to the talk about how good nuts are for health, with nuts and granola, nuts and fruits and smoked nuts growing more popular. Unique flavor combinations give consumers the feeling they are eating healthy: for example, cashews with pomegranate and vanilla, or dark chocolate with caramelized black walnuts.
-- Fruits: the low-hanging snack. The trend here is the mainstreaming of new types of fruit, and the redefinition of locally grown to mean locally sourced. Fresh fruit is now the No. 1 snack among kids aged two to 17.
-- Cruising the bars. While it's become mainstream that a granola bar is an acceptable emergency meal, bars are now offered in dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, soy-free, cholesterol-free, trans-fat-free and casein-free varieties. There are even versions specifically formulated for women and children.
-- Sweet and salty. Until recent years, the only way sweet and salty snacks mixed was when people ate something sweet and then craved something salty, or vice-versa. That barrier is now removed, with consumers dipping pretzels in Nutella and eating fruit with a side of popcorn. These tastes are filling up the new-style vending machines too, where the choices are increasing and more nutritional information is available.
-- Yogurt, redefined. The new gold standard for yogurt is the increased health value found with probiotics. Acknowledging the trend toward global flavors, there is Greek yogurt, among the healthiest snacks one can eat. Icelandic yogurt is starting to emerge as yet another world player and new self-serve frozen yogurt shops are popping up everywhere too. Although not new, yogurt continues to redefine itself and is definitely trending up.
-- Bodaciously bold. Bold flavors are almost becoming regular, satisfying an urge for something unordinary. One example is Doritos First-, Second- and Third-Degree Burn.
-- Nostalgia's new again. Any decent tribute to snacking has to mention the traditional Snack Cake, which includes the Hostess Twinkie, the Ding Dong, the TastyKake and the Little Debbie. Anything that's lasted this long deserves a mention in the snacking hall of fame.