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Consumer Demand is Reshaping How We Innovate to Make New Snack Foods

By: Elizabeth Roark
MPH, RD, Frito-Lay North America

Oct 06, 2017

When I first started the path to becoming a dietitian, I thought I knew what my career would look like. But it turns out the traditional route of working in a hospital or physician’s office wasn’t for me. Instead, my career went a different direction, which led to a job I love with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division. Here I have the ability to help transform how iconic brands approach nutrition and shape the future of snacking for millions of Americans.

It’s a fun job – and one that is ever changing.  There is a lot of “new” in nutrition, which brings a lot of excitement and possibility – new dietary guidelines, changing cuisines and a constant stream of new information online. However, all of this new – and often contradictory – information can also make it overwhelming and confusing. Just ask someone how they define “healthy” or “nutritious” and you’ll get as many answers as people you ask.

But, it’s not just nutrition that’s changed – it’s also how we eat. 

When I was in school to become a dietitian, snacking was something people enjoyed in-between meals, at a party or while tailgating. Now, the lines between meals and snacks are blurring. According to a 2014 Nielsen report, 41 percent of Americans had eaten snacks instead of dinner at least once in the previous 30 days. Which means that we want – and need – more from our snacks.

With so much change, it can be hard for companies and brands to keep up. My job is to help Frito-Lay find ways to stay on-trend while meeting evolving preferences, and even exceed expectations of what a global food company can provide.

So how are we doing it?

Less Negatives and More Positives
According to the Nielsen global snacking study, Americans rank the absence of things that are bad for them, or “negatives,” as one of the most important attributes when it comes to purchasing snacks. This is where we are seeing innovation and renovation at its best. By introducing products like our Lay’s Lightly Salted chips, which offer reduced amounts of sodium, and our SunChips Veggie Harvest multigrain chips, which provide more “positive” nutrition like whole grains and vegetable, we’ve provided snacks with more of what you are looking for – and less of what you aren’t.

Balance
As we are all looking for snack options that taste great, as well as align with dietary guidelines, we have more options than ever to find balance. For example, whole grains, fiber, and healthy fats can easily be added to our diets by pairing chips that offer whole grains with chickpea hummus or guacamole.  For more snacking inspiration, check out the recipe section of our website!

Authentic & Transparent
Today’s consumers are clearly using their voices and buying power to change every industry around them, and the food industry is no exception. Many consumers look for products that clearly communicate how ingredients are grown, how and where products are produced, as well as the absence of certain ingredients.  It’s no wonder claims like USDA Organic and a simple ingredient list are often a must.

At Frito-Lay, we believe our consumers should always have choices to meet their needs – whether it’s an option without artificial flavors or colors or a snack that provides ingredient sourcing information. Our Simply brand is just one example of how we’re helping consumers find great taste without sacrificing their desire for transparency and simplicity.

While we are seeing a shift toward preference for snacks that fall into the health and wellness space, not everything is moving in that direction. After all, a diet without occasional treats is not sustainable or realistic (or fun!). It’s important to keep in mind that all snacks, when consumed in moderation, can have a place in an overall balanced diet. And that’s one “trend” I hope lasts.


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