Healthy snack brands would be wise to learn from their established foodie forebears like KFC, writes Kathryn Jubrail
Good news for healthy snack brands. Demand for them continues to rise. The pandemic has nudged consumers towards more frequent indulgent snacking and a firm focus on health means more people are looking for low-sugar or free-from snacking options. The global healthy snacks market size was valued at $85.6 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand by 6.6% from 2022 to 2030.
Not so good is the news that despite this growing appetite, it is still hard for many healthy snack brands to cut through as the category grows with newcomers as well as health focused product offers from FMCG giants like Mars.
So in a market being flooded with newcomers and established brands alike, how can healthy snacking brands stand out?
From a branding and communications point of view, the answer is that doubling down on healthy messaging alone isn’t enough. Instead, healthy snacking brands should look for inspiration to those that have been doing it well for years. Namely, their more established foodie forebears – the KFCs, Burger Kings, Pepsis and Magnum’s of this world.
Why not take tips from those that have been building success in food and convenience for decades? Rather than reinventing the category, why not rediscover the prime drivers that fuel consumption in it?
Enough with the health, already
Because the problem with a lot of healthy snack brands is that they focus – well – on health.
They use design cues that signal wellbeing and good nutrition. These tend to fall into three camps. You have those that dial up the wholesome – the likes of Deliciously Ella or The Giving Tree – and communicate goodness through ‘natural’ design codes, colourways and textures. Their language is zen, positive and calm, calling out organic origin in often soothing handwritten typography.
Then you have the minimalistic that tap into the clean eating trend – they believe their product is so good it speaks for itself. Like Gaea or Barebells bars, they use functional language to convey claims of nutritional benefits in simplistic, bold typography.
Finally, there are those looking to disrupt with a more ‘fun’ approach. As an antidote to all that ‘wholesomeness’ they bring edge and humour to wellness with a sense of bold exuberance and a ‘healthy snacking doesn’t have to be boring’ approach. They often feature humorous, expressive imagery and bold, expressive typography – think Insane Grain’s mind-blown portraits or Snack Zilla’s illustrated monsters.
But in the race to claim a slice of the potentially lucrative growth in the market, many of these brands seem to have forgotten what really drives people to purchase food. In their efforts to make their point about nutrition and wellbeing, or disrupt with a bold and irreverent approach, they plain forget about one crucial thing – crave appeal.
Rediscovering the crave appeal
According to research from FMCG Gurus, 66% of consumers purchase confectionery products as a treat or reward. Meanwhile, a study by the International Taste Institute showed that taste was the most important factor when consumers decide whether they like a product.
So why aren’t healthy snack brands doubling down on taste and indulgence when it comes to the visual expression and communications around their products? Your non-HFSS product can be the most tasty or indulgent treat ever, but if you don’t signal that at point of sale, who will reach for it?
It is something more established snack and food brands have built their success on over many years. Born from one ambition, to convey crave appeal, those brands dial up not just taste but the sensation and pleasure of eating.
All their communications evoke that desire, that screen-lickable, mouth salivating response, whether through visual, sonic or tactile sensations.
Creating the consumption moment
A huge part of that is conjuring a unique sensorial consumption moment – allowing people to taste a product without even taking a bite. When you mention KFC, people instantly think about the crunchy, breaded outside and the soft, succulent chicken inside. Over the years, it has built a brand world that allows people to taste, hear and smell that sensation, with its ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ campaign the pinnacle of this expression.
Other brands also do this well. Magnum ice creams, for example, has developed its distinctive product sound of chocolate-cracking bite that references a unique moment of delight. Pepsi, meanwhile, uses messaging and typography to communicate the sensation of taking a first sip – its posters of ‘Popfizzzzzz Aaahhhhh’ or ‘Whoosh’ instantly reference the refreshing fizz of opening a cold can.
Healthy snack brands need to ask themselves what that unique moment is for their product. Yes, it might be good for you and contain all the right nutrients for a nourishing on-the-go feed, but what delightful sensation can a bar of protein evoke? Is it melt-in-your-mouth creamy or satisfyingly crunchy?
Following on from that sensorial consumption moment is the necessity to convey taste. Minimalism is all well and good and signifies ‘healthy’, but at the end of the day, people want a snack to taste good. As Mintel food and drink patent analyst Naha Srivastava says, yes reducing sugar intake is a priority for many consumers, but the number one rule is “they don’t want to compromise on taste”.
This is especially important if you are a new snack brand and therefore still unfamiliar to people.
Design can help communicate the ‘unknown’ in what is a relatively new product category – through showcasing ingredients, for example, or using illustration and graphic language that can give a sense of provenance and flavour. It’s crucial to also embrace established design cues to create flavour shortcuts. For example, ice cream brand Gruvi uses colour to denote flavour profiles, while Swirl uses typography to reflect the textural quality of its product.
Many alternative product lines are adept at this – conveying the unknown through familiarity to create flavour appeal. Good examples are Minor Figures cuing traditional milk packaging or Prime Roots meat alternative using typographic cues of traditional delis to create taste associations.
Embracing the occasion
Along with neglecting the necessity to convey taste in a more impactful way, healthy brands often forget the cultural significance of food – and with it the role that it plays in people’s lives.
Currently, healthy snack brands are often too caught up in underscoring their relevance to a more conscientious and moderate approach to fuelling our bodies and minds. But that conscientiousness doesn’t alter or diminish the role that food plays culturally. So why not combine that sensibility with design cues that go big on occasion too?
Eating and drinking is an occasion, not just a nutritional benefit. Healthy food brands need to get in on the action and not be afraid of showing the joy of it. For example, many of snacking’s main competitors use branding communications to evoke nostalgia, associating themselves with fond memories.
From Burger King rediscovering its retro heritage in its recent rebrand, to the Weezy delivery service referencing old-school sandwich boards and grocery bags in its graphics, they are aware that food is much more than pure sustenance.
After all, there is a link between indulgence and wellbeing. According to the Foresight Factory, consumers turn to traditional indulgence products such as ‘treat foods’ to maintain their general wellbeing.
It is an emerging consumer demand and mindset that healthy snacking brands are uniquely placed to meet – as long as they don’t forget that taste is what ultimately drives it all.