Food for thought: Companies seek to profit from 'healthy snacks' trend

Ding Yining
New snacks and drinks, the seemingly "healthy junk food," have taken consumers by surprise, becoming a new growth engine for local and multinational food companies.
Ding Yining

Despite the seemingly paradoxical "healthy junk food" designation, new snacks and drinks have taken consumers by surprise, becoming a new growth engine for local and multinational food companies.

As much as consumers seek to enjoy the comforts of snack food, at the same time, they still want more nutritional and health benefits and superior flavors.

Many new formats of food and drinks with low-fat and low-sugar options have emerged, triggering a debate on how to break into a new category and flip the minds of consumers.

Years ago, Wei Long, a famous Chinese snack company, began offering gluten-free, vegan Spicy Konjac noodles, following decades of success with its traditional spicy slices made from dried bean curd.

That tendency has grown even more evident in recent years.

Food for thought: Companies seek to profit from 'healthy snacks' trend
Ti Gong

Even the most traditional potato chips have taken on a new recipe with less saturated fat.

Nutritional and health benefits are the top factors when Gen-Z shoppers buy food, followed by price and environmental impact, according to a survey by financial news portal Yicai, covering over 4,000 consumers .

They also consciously try to maintain a dietary habit that includes egg and diary, vegetables and fruit on a daily basis.

Even the most traditional potato chips have now taken on a new recipe as a result.

After upgrading two potato chip production lines last year, Lay's China said all of its five domestic production plants have adopted new facilities for a low-oil and low-fat version of potato chips.

Renovation at altogether 11 production lines at the five sites has been completed, with the overall product upgrade work taking about one and a half years.

Using a type of oil with less saturated fat, the new recipe has reduced the saturated fat content by 50 percent in more than 300 types of chips made by Lay's for the domestic market.

Another example is milk tea, an iconic drink extremely popular with local consumers.

Heytea recently updated its food ingredient chart to allow those ordering online to have a better understanding about the calorie intake when they want to treat themselves to a nice drink.

It hopes the chart with specific amount of energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates, covering altogether dozens of kinds of drinks, will provide a guidance for nutrition conscious consumers.

Food for thought: Companies seek to profit from 'healthy snacks' trend
Ti Gong

Heytea is among the earliest tea drink chain to reveal the natural source of materials and the calorie proportion for each of its beverages.

In fact, by creating a new category completely unrelated to the original brand and becoming a forerunner in that field, businesses are also likely to establish their leading position and dominate the sector.

Lan Fong Yuen, a Hong Kong-originated drink brand owned by Xiangpiaopiao Food Co, unveiled a low-sugar lemon tea after having enjoyed years of success for creating the paper cup instant powder milk tea.

Being an absolute dominant player in the powder milk tea category for over a decade, founder Jiang Jianqi felt it was imperative to introduce a brand new category amid consumers' rising health concerns and steep competition in the packaged milk tea sector.

The bottled low-sugar tea was launched earlier this year, allowing users to build a strong mindset about the brand's new category, and Jiang expects nationwide sales to double next year from around 200 million yuan (US$27.32 million) this year.

"Competition is intensifying in every aspect: consumers need their daily drinks to be reasonably priced, tasty and healthy, which places high demand on all businesses alike," he told an industry forum in Shanghai earlier in October.

Industry watchers find it's essential for firms to establish new brand images and relevant marketing efforts should also be put in place so shoppers can have a clear concept about new product lines and what stands out from previous ones.

Zhang Yun, global CEO of Ries Category Creation Strategy & Consulting and president of Ries China, believes there are still huge opportunities for low-fat and low-sugar snack and drinks.

"A low-fat and low-sugar option allows customers to assuage their sense of guilt. But the low-fat offerings themselves are not a guarantee of success when food companies create new categories and new flavors," he noted.

"It's a delicate effort to find the right moment and create a brand recognition in line with consumers' shifting mindset."

In a sense, the timing and the positioning of the brand is always crucial, which comes down to consumers' perception about the product category in a broader sense and why it's indispensable compared with their competitors.

Special Reports