- Today's parents want to introduce their children to the types of junk food they ate growing up, but they may not want them consuming the artificial ingredients those nostalgic snacks contain. According to The Wall Street Journal, they're looking for healthier, cleaner-label approximations of those treats to have the best of both worlds.
- Snack makers are catering to this demographic by turning out better-for-you versions of those familiar goodies. Consumers are picking up vegan and gluten-free MadeGood crispy squares instead of Rice Krispies Treats, Tree Hugger vegan, nut- and dairy-free lollipops rather than Charm Blow Pops, and Annie's Organic Cheddar Bunnies with real cheese in place of Goldfish snacks.
- Some manufacturers even aim for a "fake taste" while including healthier ingredients, The Wall Street Journal noted. Peatos makes its crunchy curls and rings from peas, lentils and fava beans and uses the tag line, "Junk food with benefits!" Magic Spoon's low-carb cereal, made with vegetable-based colors, turns out classic varieties such as frosted, fruity, cocoa and cinnamon.
Although snack manufacturers are making a push toward healthier options, the trend toward eating more junk food persists. According to a recent CivicScience survey of 772 parents with kids between 3 and 17 years cited by The Journal, almost 40% allow their children to consume junk food several times per week. And that's regardless of the industry's growing emphasis on healthier products, cleaner labels and transparency in food and beverage manufacturing.
CPG manufacturers have recently been advertising better-for-you snacks to children. Chobani has a kids' line, while Kind Snacks and Kellogg's RXBAR have also launched products geared toward children. PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division rolled out a new child-focused non-GMO snack line last summer called Imagine, featuring yogurt crisps and cheese stars. And Ingenuity Brands recently introduced kids' yogurt designed to support developing brains. Big Food has even dropped some of their legacy brands to make room for new better-for-you ones.
But some nutritional experts and policy research groups aren't buying it. In a 2017 report, the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute found snack bars may claim to be wholesome and nutritious, but they actually include cheap, conventional ingredients instead of organic ones. Nutritionists have said packaged snacks go through significant processing and are less healthy than fruits, vegetables and grains. Healthy junk food may be more of a marketing tactic than a definable term, but it does seem to draw in consumers.
Besides the concern about healthier ingredients, studies show children tend to eat more snack foods if they have access to a wider variety of them. Meanwhile, other studies have linked childhood allergies to consuming processed junk food and to health problems such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. Those factors have deterred parents from buying traditional junk food and pushed them to look for alternatives.
Some of these brands may cost more — perhaps due to the indulgence or nostalgia factors — but research has found millennials in particular will pay more for higher-quality premium products. Some brands might be taking it too far for consumers to pay, though. Magic Spoon is a low-carb, low-sugar, high-protein and gluten-free breakfast food that can only be bought online and isn't cheap. The brand is looking to revamp the cereal category, which has struggled as consumers have turned to healthier options, but four 7-ounce boxes are listed at $39 on the company's website.
Not all brands are embracing the better-for-you trend. Recent studies have shown food companies are not doing enough to help consumers eat healthy, and they could do more to make nutritious options affordable to consumers. Achieving genuinely healthy junk food may be a stretch, although better-for-you versions of junk food-like products clearly have an appeal — and a market. As long as they do, manufacturers will likely continue producing them to meet the growing demand.