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Protein-Fortified Cookies Anyone?.

Byline: Lawrence Aylward

Retailers could heighten awareness, sales with healthy offerings

"Me want healthy cookie!" Maybe the Cookie Monster from "Sesame Street" announcing this wouldn't be much of a stretch these days, considering the continued consumer movement toward eating better-for-you foods. The healthy cookie movement has been happening for several years, but it's getting stronger and with a few new twists. Chocolate-chip protein cookies anyone?

Get this: According to a 2015 report from Mintel on cookies, healthy options of cookies, while small in terms of current overall sales, are expected to increase 32 percent in sales through 2020. Standard and premium cookies are expected to increase 13 percent during that timeframe.

Overall, sales of private label cookies were up more than 5 percent in 2016 when compared to the previous year, according to data from IRI. Private label owns about 15 percent of the cookie category.

In its report, Mintel states that private label could find opportunity in healthy cookie options, such as fiber-enriched cookies, because 56 percent of consumers perceive own brand cookies as having equal quality with name brands.

Sylmar, Calif.-based Fantasy Cookies, a private label supplier, noticed the healthy cookie trend several years ago (of course, many trends seem to start on the West Coast and move East). Fantasy Cookie began manufacturing cookies with fruit juice that were also up to 98 percent fat-free. Fantasy Cookie says it was one of the first cookie manufacturers to offer low-carb cookies, and says it rolled out organic cookies before organic was popular.

Matt Cobb, Fantasy Cookie's purchasing manager, says the healthy cookie trends have transcended to protein-fortified and plant-based products. Organic cookies, of course, also continue to grow. Cobb says Fantasy Cookie doesn't use any hydrogenated oils (trans fat) in its products.

"Also, many of our customers are now requiring non-GMO and and some non-GMO Project-verified ingredients for their lines," he adds.

Cobb says one challenge the healthy cookie segment faces is sourcing the highest-quality ingredients at the lowest prices, making it easier for consumers to purchase better-for-you products at an affordable price.

Most retailers that Fantasy Cookie partners with offer up to three tiers of cookies. One is a lower value tier that includes artificial colors, preservatives and flavors. Another is a higher-end natural tier of products that contain no artificial colors, preservatives and flavors, such as Fantasy Cookie's products. Cobb says many retailers have added an organic third tier.

Cobb notes that many of the retailers partnering with Fantasy Cookie see the value of promoting their own-brand healthy cookies and are putting the marketing dollars behind them.

"One of our most recent own-brand customers is using end caps and readymade displays to promote its new organic cookie line," Cobb says.

According to Mintel, healthy cookies appear of particular interest to households containing children under 17, and more than half of households with children purchased such cookies during a three- month span in 2015. Also, Mintel reports that consumers under 45 are "significantly more likely" to pay more for healthy cookies.

"While consumers may regard cookies as an indulgence, brands should realize those same consumers -- millennials, in particular -- are paying close attention to cookie health profiles," according to Mintel.

Better for you extends to crackers

While cookies continue to build a healthier image (not that there's anything wrong with the routine fare), crackers already have a healthy reputation. According to Mintel's "Crackers, U.S. January 2017" study, close to two-thirds of cracker buyers perceive crackers as an easy, healthy snack. Over half of cracker purchasers agree that crackers are healthier than other salty snacks.

"This reputation helps make the category competitive against other snacking options outside of the category," Mintel states.

But cracker sales slowed to 0.8 percent in 2015--16 after growing 13 percent from 2011--2016, according to Mintel, which forecasts crackers to grow about 3 percent through 2021. Sales of private label crackers were down about 8 percent in 2016 when compared to 2015, according to IRI. Still, Mintel believes there is opportunity for private label suppliers.

"Product innovation will shape future growth for the category," according to Mintel. "New product development featuring convenient packaging, cutting-edge flavors, and healthy alternative bases (that don't forgo good taste) are areas of interest indicated by cracker consumers."

The top three attributes that drive purchase for cracker buyers are taste, flavor and texture. Healthy ingredients and product attributes such as whole grains, low/no salt, no artificial ingredients and high fiber are of secondary interest to consumers but may represent a great opportunity for innovation, according to Mintel.

At Venus Wafers in Hingham, Mass., requests for organic crackers are soaring, says James R. Anderko, national sales manager for the company. Venus Wafers manufacturers conventional and organic crackers and flatbreads for private label. About 95 percent of its products are non-GMO.

In the past year, Anderko says the company has received a 75 percent increase in inquiries from retailers that are interested in purchasing organic products that Venus already manufacturers as well as working with Venus to create new organic products in the category. It seems some retailers may be seeking that all-important exclusive private brand in the cracker category.

Anderko doesn't expect organic growth in the category to slow soon. With the growth, Anderko says the challenge for manufacturers like Venus is to not compromise on characteristics and taste when producing organic products.

Most of the products that Venus manufactures have as few as three ingredients and nothing artificial. With the increasing consumer demand for free-from products, Anderko realizes that Venus Wafer is positioned nicely. More retailers are looking for upscale private label products, which is Venus Wafer's forte, Anderko says.

"Consumers want more than just a saltine," he adds.

Anderko believes consumers are willing to pay more for organics and free-from products because of everything they are reading and hearing about unhealthy ingredients and what they should and shouldn't be eating.

While Anderko says Venus Wafers offers basic cracker and flatbread flavors, including sesame, multigrain and multiseed, the manufacturer has also taken advantage of recent flavor trends that pair well with such products, including olive oil, sea salt and peppercorn.

For retailers, in regard to the type of high-end crackers that Venus Wafers manufactures, Anderko says it's vital to get consumers to buy them and try them whether through sampling, advertising or discounting.

"There is a lot of opportunity to cross-merchandise these products within the deli with cheese, spreads, soups and hummus," Anderko says. "We see retailers doing that a lot. I think there are a lot of opportunities to grow the private label business."

Do

develop healthful cookie options.

Don't

forget to cross-merchandise crackers with cheese, spreads, soups and hummus.

Aylward, editor-in-chief of Store Brands, can be reached at laylward@ensembleiq.com.
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Author:Aylward, Lawrence
Publication:Progressive Grocer's Store Brands
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Words:1271
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