Going beyond unsweetened peanut butters and trail mix, the healthy snacking industry is thriving as newer brands take over the market, and the standard ones up their game with transparent ingredients. What’s the catch? We decode its nutrition, fad, and the boom.

For the past month or so, I have been obsessing over a double cocoa protein bar, and pretty much everyone I’ve hung out with is tired of hearing me recommend it. Duh, it’s not my first protein bar, but the first time that I’m trying something that isn’t being sold to me under the garb of clean, while I can taste all its crystallised honey, and some unnecessary chewy granola. The Whole Truth Foods, started a year ago by Shashank, wants to make food clean, and be clear about every ingredient in what you eat. They do a range of bars, granolas, peanut butters, and show that the cleanest of foods can also be the yummiest.

healthy snack

The Whole Truth Foods is taking forward what seems to be becoming the norm when it comes to healthy snacking. Reports suggest that the Indian snack market will boom to more than one billion rupees by the end of 2024, and is expected to grow with a double-digit CAGR for the time frame of 2018 to 2024. An IPSOS survey further reveals that 91 per cent Indians like to explore healthy alternatives when looking for snacks, and a Mintel Study this year highlights that close to 85 per cent of Indian consumers wish there were healthy snack options available.

It’s fairly obvious why snacking has gone up — it’s not you, it’s the lockdown. Work from home has led to the usual 4pm snack to become a snack-every-four-hours situation, which leads us to this — can you mindlessly munch more than one time a day? Probably not. Do you want to be able to comfortably snack every few hours without constantly resorting to a fruit in order to keep it clean? Yes. Enter healthy snacking options.

healthy snack

Seema Jindal Jajodia is the founder of Nourish Organics, a brand that caters to “healthy eating for urban living”. They have multi-grain breakfast cereals, nutrient dense cookies, on-the-go snacks, seed & nut combinations, among other products. Jajodia feels that although the awareness of the benefits of eating organic food is still limited, “people are aware of their requirement of things like antioxidants, omega-3, etc”. Their sales, in fact, have more than doubled this year as compared to the last two years.

WiseCrack was born as a passion project by parents Danesh and Kerzina to provide healthy snacks for their toddlers, and ended up becoming a full-fledged brand that offers healthy rice cakes such as brown rice cakes, flax, quinoa, and super seeds rice cakes. WiseCrack moves mostly in metros, but recently, they have seen a surge in cities like Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Pune, Bengaluru, Goa etc. The growth has been significant in Tier 2 cities, in the past six months. In fact, Kerzina explains that last year has seen almost 100 per cent increase in sales.

Another healthy bar that caught my attention in the last year for all the right reasons is IN2 Nutrition’s Balance Bar, which is India’s first Wholefood Nut Bar. It’s like munching fresh almonds with dark, bittersweet chocolate. Shashi Thadani, Founder & CEO of IN2 Nutrition, says that while there was a gradual shift towards healthier snacks in the last decade, the onset of the pandemic has significantly accelerated it.

To solve the problem of no added sugar, brothers Shubham and Shivaam Tibrewal started Brawny Bear, a health and nutrition brand that uses premium dates from across the Arabian Peninsula to sweeten their products. A fairly new brand on the block, Brawny Bear does nut butters and spreads, and energy protein powders, among other products. “We don’t think people change their snacking habits in the sense that they still snack, but they are now looking for guilt-free options,” explains Shubham.

healthy snack

Among the new snack product launches in India between February 2016 to January 2021, Mintel GNPD indicates growth in natural claims, such as the ‘no additives or preservatives’ claim saw a rise from 11 per cent to 16 per cent, and ‘free from added/artificial preservatives’ increased from 7 per cent to 15 per cent. The change in the language is supported by the fact that brands understand that thanks to technology, we now know how to Google ingredients, and go down a rabbit hole to decide on what to believe.

Mayank Gupta understood exactly this trust issue that people might have with claims of healthy products, and started To Be Honest with Ritika, and Anuj. TBH does vacuum-fried crunchies that Gupta and his wife, Ritika, discovered during their travel in south east Asia, and saw fruits like mango, papaya, jackfruit that were available as tasty crunchies. “We launched vegetable and fruit crunchies. The technology helps in retaining more than 90 per cent of the natural nutrient and fiber content of the raw material, and has 50 per cent less oil than normal snacks, he explains.

“Earlier, most of our consumers were from metropolitan cities, but in the last year, 30 per cent of our online orders are coming from smaller tier 2 and tier 3 towns,” he says, affirming what WiseCrack rightly points out too — the rise of healthy snacking is not just a tier 1 phenomenon.

healthy snack

While brands are connecting with their consumers and helping bridge the gap of healthier snacking options, nutritionists weigh in on what one needs to look out for when picking a snack. After all, if eating right is your aim, there needs to be a way to go about it. Neeti S Kumar, clinical nutritionist and founder of The Winning Health, explains that snacking helps control the portion of your next big meal, and also helps maintain energy levels.

Nutritionist and author Kavita Devgan agrees — portion control is essential. “Be very mindful of portions, and keep your snacks’ calories between 150 to 200. Whatever you choose to snack on, ask yourself if it’s doing anything good for you. A snack should fill in the gap in your diet — in today’s time, immunity is the buzzword. So look at snacks that will help your immunity,” she advises.

But what exactly is leading to this increase in the number of snacking brands, I ask Kumar. She explains that the health issue graph is increasing day by day, which is making people conscious about what they choose to eat. “People are carrying home made food for their main meals, and brands are giving healthy snacking options, people are comfortable opting for that,” she adds.

healthy snack

So is India’s healthy snacking space going to increase? Brands certainly think so. Jajodia believes that with the shift towards an online shopping lifestyle, brands are being able to sell without having to place themselves in retail outlets. So the barrier to entry in the snacking industry has really been brought down. Kerzina, too, feels that “snacking is now taken more seriously. Today, healthy snacks have penetrated tier 2 and tier 3 cities, so it’s a matter of time when genuine healthy snacks will make it to even smaller towns and villages across India.”

IN2 shares a recent survey, which points out that the market for clean snacks has grown from 10-12 per cent to almost 20 per cent in the last year. Devgan believes that the market always responds to demand. People are now more aware that the most important asset they have is their health, and that realisation is going to stick for some time,” she says.

Whether people have the knowledge or not, she continues, No one is very lax about what they’re eating now,” she says.

Let’s skip to the good part — it is possible to snack, and be fit.