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Produce can’t seem to crack into the snack spotlight

veggie bento box produce snack
I picked up this Veggie Bento Box for a recent trip to a water park.

The produce industry has been trying to crack into packaged snacks for as long as I can remember.

I recall the first time I tried baby-peeled carrots. It was 1997, and I was at an after-school function in high school. A club sponsor brought carrots and fried chicken tenders from Walmart for a pre-game snack.  

At the time it was just the standard 1-pound bag we all know these days, but for me it was revolutionary.

My mom was a scratch-cooked kind of mom. We never had jarred pasta sauce, or deli food from the grocery store. That could be because our only store options were a Walmart Supercenter, an old-school grocery called Carl’s Market, or a gas station/convenience option named the DeGraffenreid Store in Brumley, MO, population 81. Their bacon was tremendous. Produce was not high on their priorities.

For years, baby-peeled carrots were the only convenience item I experienced. Fresh-cut watermelon or cored pineapple were years away from ubiquity. Sliced apples have been on the scene for years, but so overlooked I even forgot to mention them for this article until my editor suggested them.

Nowadays, produce suppliers continue to innovate, and attempt to bring easy-to-access snacks to market, with some success.

But we’re still fighting a hard battle, with little-to-no recognition for our efforts.

A recent Wall Street Journal article emphasizes our plight. “America Is Binging on Snacks, and Food Companies Are Eating It Up,” says “the snack-ification’ of U.S. diets has cookie and candy giants drooling.”

Understandably so. Acosta Group research puts snack category growth at 12 percent annually, with no signs of slowing down.

U.S. consumers are switching from meals to snacks in every category, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.

WSJ’s article points to massive growth for “Big Snack” companies like Hershey, Mondelez, and Hostess, but there’s an entire category missing from the reportage: fresh produce.

Not one mention of fresh produce, and very little about the fact that most snacks mentioned are pure junk food, in the 800-word article, though it did note some start-ups making “savory salad” bars made with kale, spinach, and other ingredients. While I’m a little skeptical about the widespread appeal of kale-based bars, I do recall that my 9-year-old and many of his classmates happily eat sheets of toasted seaweed during snack time at school.

That doesn’t mean the snacking category innovations are latching on to fresh produce’s health halo. Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics shared the latest innovations from the Sweets and Snacks Expo. Many of the new products in the packaged snack category have a produce angle, though none of them were technically fresh.  

New products included:

  • Strawberry Chunk Nibbles, a dried strawberry snack mix;
  • Solely mini fruit jerky that contained “just one ingredient” (mango);
  • Dark chocolate dipped dried pineapple;
  • Cranberry sweeties, a new take on dried cranberries;
  • Steamed, marinated artichoke snacks in a 1.58-ounce packet;
  • Apple Snacks, which resemble apple croutons; and
  • Strawberry Rhubarb “fruity snacks.”

Another noteworthy lack of fresh produce in this conversation. It seems like we’re not even in the room, though I know there are myriad new options in the fresh produce snacking category.

What can we do, as an industry, to make sure we’re front and center when someone asks for a snack?


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.