BOULDER, COLO. — Specialty and wellness products are leading growth throughout the snacking category, driven in part by the growing variety of options available for a range of diet tribes, from gluten-free and vegan to keto and paleo, according to data from SPINS and New Hope Network.

“You could literally follow just about any type of diet in existence, and you’d be able to purchase the corresponding snacks,” said Adrienne Smith, senior food business reporter at New Hope Network, during a presentation at Expo West Virtual Week, held May 24-27. “While diet-specific snacks are in general nothing new in the natural products industry, these and other types of snacks are being driven by a couple of overwhelming and overlapping trends.”

Label claims such as gluten-free, organic, non-GMO and vegan are driving sales, along with cleaner labels that highlight allergen-free and high protein ingredients, she said. Consumers also are seeking products that are free from artificial sweeteners and colors.

“Truly clean snacks are becoming as reality with one- and two-ingredient guilt-free options,” Ms. Smith said.

Solana Beach, Calif.-based Earnest Eats offers a line of Snacking Avocados. The light and crispy snack is made only with avocado slices that are freeze-dried and seasoned with sea salt and spices. Rind Snacks, New York, offers crispy thin-cut fruit chips with the peel on. Available in straw-peary, orchard, tropical and coco-melon varieties, the snacks feature non-GMO, immunity, fiber and no added sugar callouts.

“You could literally follow just about any type of diet in existence, and you’d be able to purchase the corresponding snacks.” — Adrienne Smith, New Hope Network

Miami-based Elma Farms is bringing a fresh alternative to dry snacks with its steamed and marinaded Poshi asparagus snack. Featuring vegetables freshly marinated in olive oil and Mediterranean herbs and spices, the snack may be consumed on-the-go, with dips and spreads or used as a topping for pizza, salad and pasta.

Responsible sourcing is another key trend, with 15% of natural and organic shoppers citing it as an important purchase driver, according to New Hope Network. Innovation around responsible sourcing largely has focused on meat snacks, with brands like New York-based Union launching options that promote regenerative sourcing. The brand’s crunchy Charcuterie Chips are available in genoa, sopressata and chorizo varieties.

“Sourcing responsibly is about realizing the true costs of goods extends beyond a single financial exchange,” said Arthi Padmanabhan, market research manager at New Hope Network. “The core principle boils down to acknowledging a deeper responsibility to the supply chain and acknowledging and fixing the inequities and deficiencies you see along the path. The most innovative brands are proactively sourcing ingredients and other inputs to have a positive effect on farmers, fishers, gatherers, importers and processors all along the way.”

Carnivore Snax, Columbus, Ohio, offers Lamb Sliders, which are bite-sized pieces of regeneratively-raised, grass-fed lamb. Patagonia Provisions, Sausalito, Calif., offers buffalo jerky sourced from 100% grass-fed buffalo that roam the grasslands of the Great Plains.

A related trend is mission-based snacking, with nearly a quarter of snack innovators saying constructing business models that go beyond the bottom line is important.  Snacks are landing on shelves that support a range of issues, from BIPOC brands to supply chain transparency and climate change mitigation.

“This trend scored lower among consumers compared, and it might be because it's a little harder to understand,” Ms. Padmanabhan said. “There’s such a broad array of business practices that can ladder into this. Overall, it’s about drawing a focus beyond profits.”

Puffed Kelp Chips from 12 Tides, San Francisco, come in compostable pouches and were created to support coastal communities and regenerative ocean foods, Ms. Smith said. San Francisco-based food startup Planet FWD’s Moonshot Snacks are carbon neutral crackers available in sourdough, sea salt, rosemary garlic and tomato basil varieties. The Philosopher’s Stoneground, Santa Cruz, Calif., uses nuts sourced from a regenerative almond orchard to create its Naked Crunchy Sprouted Almond Butter. 

Global inspiration is another trend driving snack innovation on the flavor front. Diversifying consumer palates are reflected in trending flavor profiles and ingredients like African grains and cacti, Ms. Smith said.

New York-based based Yolele’s Fonio Chips are inspired by West African cuisine. The light, crispy chips are made with the West African grain fonio and flavored with regionally inspired ingredients like dawadawa, a fermented seed.

Nemi Holisticks, Chicago, offers a line of crunchy snack sticks made from nopales, or prickly pear cacti, in Mexican-inspired flavors like smoky chipotle, chili turmeric, spirulina lime and churro. Nopales also are the star ingredient in Grain-Free Cactus Chips from Tiburon, Calif.-based Tia Lupita Foods.