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Mills launched Nature Valley Protein bars in 2012 and they did $100 million in sales, a first-year benchmark considered a “huge success” for any new food product, said Matthew Hudak, a Euromonitor analyst. The new bar capitalizes on the current rage for protein-rich packaged food products.
General Mills was also first to invest heavily in fiber-rich snacks with the launch of the low-calorie Fiber One bar in 2007, Hudak said. The product, based on Mills’ successful Fiber One cereals, did $100 million in sales in its first year, too.
After bars, the company’s largest U.S. snack franchise is fruit snacks, a kid-targeted product that’s been criticized by some food labeling watchdogs for its relative lack of actual fruit. Next comes savory snacks led by Chex Mix.
General Mills went to the Fiber One playbook for a salty snack launched this year: Green Giant-branded Roasted Veggie Tortilla Chips and Multigrain Sweet Potato Chips. Fiber One made the leap to snacks, so why not Green Giant?
“We have the best equity in vegetables,” Nudi said. “And one of the things we see is a trend toward veggie snacks.”
Challenge in chips
Jack Russo, a stock analyst at Edward Jones, said succeeding in snack chips will be more of a stretch than winning in snack bars. “Green Giant means a lot in its core category, but taking it out [of that category] will be difficult.” Plus, he said, it’s tougher to make a healthier chip without affecting taste.
Green Giant chips have 140 calories and 6 to 7 grams of fat per serving, compared with 150 calories and 9 grams of fat in Lay’s popular kettle-cooked potato chips. They’re made with whole grain corn flour, along with either sweet potatoes or bell peppers as primary ingredients.
But if you eat a few veggie chips more than a full-serving — not difficult during a snack attack — you’re arguably no better off than eating a full serving of potato chips. Hence, the dietary dilemma of the snacking boom.
Some researchers who’ve studied the issue — such as University of North Carolina nutrition scientist Barry Popkin — say they believe increased snacking is adding calories to U.S. diets and possibly leading to more obesity.
Popkin co-authored a study that found snacking’s contribution to daily calorie intake from 1977 to 2006 rose from 18 percent to 24 percent (overall calorie intake increased, too).
However, that study included soda pop, a product generally regarded by health professionals as nutritionally barren. And some nutrition research has shown that increased eating frequency can have beneficial health effects without increasing calories.
Eating more frequently can cut both ways, said Richard Mattes, a Purdue University nutrition scientist. “There is nothing inherently wrong with snacking,” he said. “A snack can be used intelligently, or in a way that leads to weight gain.”
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003