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Food Product Design: Concepts - March 2005 - New Spins on Salty SnacksFood Product Design: Concepts - March 2005 - New Spins on Salty Snacks

March 1, 2005

28 Min Read
Food Product Design: Concepts - March 2005 - New Spins on Salty Snacks

March 2005

New Spins on Salty Snacks

By Cindy Hazen
Contributing Editor   By the dictionary's definition, snacking means eating between meals. According to Webster, virtually any food -- an apple, a cup of yogurt or a handful of cookies -- can constitute a snack. The Snack Food Association, Alexandria, VA, however, is more precise in its classification of snacks. It focuses primarily on chips, pretzels, snack nuts, popcorn, extruded products and meat snacks. These are the snacks Americans are most fond of, as opposed to the French, for example, who would rather reach for a piece of fruit. We are a nation of snackers; it fits particularly well with our fast-paced, eat-on-the-run lifestyles. Yet unlike our slimmer European counterparts, we often seek our snacks from a vending machine as opposed to a fruit stand. The 2004 state-of-the-industry report released by the Snack Food Association shows that in 2003, snack sales neared $23.5 billion -- an increase of 4.5%. Not surprisingly, potato-chip sales surpassed $6 billion, followed by tortilla chips at $4.5 billion. Sales for Atkins-diet-friendly products showed the most growth. Pork rind sales rose by 37% over the previous year's level. Snack nuts, seeds and corn nuts followed with a 16% increase. The meat-snack category grew almost 14.5%. High-protein snacks might follow the route of most fads, but whether or not growth continues or ebbs, a point has been proven. Many consumers are making conscious decisions about their choice of snacks based on their perceptions of calorie control or healthfulness. No doubt, obesity and its health-related consequences are epidemic in this country. Additionally, consumers are becoming more educated about the role of functional foods in improving and protecting health. Yet snack foods are perhaps the greatest paradox. Some consumers will choose healthful options, but many others equate snacking with splurging. That potato chips are the king of snack-food sales bears this out. At the same time, manufacturers cannot overlook the growing awareness of consumers. While consumers might choose a standard potato chip over a sweet-potato chip that is more vitamin rich, or corn chips over vitamin-E-rich nuts, they still want healthier fats. Frito-Lay, Plano, TX, has removed all trans fats from its Doritos®, Tostitos® and Cheetos® product lines, proving that even traditional supermarket standbys are becoming more healthful. Healthful perceptions
There are as many routes to a "healthy" snack as there are perceptions of healthfulness in consumers' minds. Some see a change to trans-free oil as producing a "healthy" product. Others attribute any oil to obesity and prefer products made with olestra, a generic name for hexa-, hepta- and octa-esters of sucrose that function as a fat substitute. Olestra is not digested in the body so it provides no calories. Because it is not absorbed, some fat-soluble vitamins might be lost and fortification is frequently recommended. Interestingly, olestra is not yet approved in the United Kingdom, demonstrating further the wide variance of defining healthful ingredients. Organic products receive wide acceptance -- as do "natural" foods. Lionel Vil, director of R&D, Kerry Savory, Waukesha, WI, sees a distinct trend among snack-food manufacturers to improve the image of snacks by offering a cleaner label. "There seems to be an attempt to physically make snacks more wholesome," he says. Carrie Schroeder, R&D manager for snacks, Kerry Seasonings, Waukesha, WI, adds: "The organic market is growing the way it is because there's a perception that organic itself is healthier. Now while organic products don't contain pesticides and hormones, and there definitely are some more-healthful aspects to using organic ingredients, organic itself does not necessarily mean healthy. You have fattening foods. You can have potato chips that are organic -- organic potatoes and organic oil -- and that's not necessarily a healthy product, but the fact that it's organic contributes to the perception that it's healthier than something that's not organic." To older adults, sodium content is the barometer of healthfulness because it can aggravate hypertension. Though older adults constitute a sizable population, the snack-food industry does not seem to be addressing their needs. "I think, in general, people are becoming a little more conscious of sodium," says Schroeder. "As far as the majority of our customers, I think the level of salt or sodium within most snack seasonings has stayed relatively constant. It's always kind of an underlying concern, but I don't think it necessarily drives formulation work." In part, that may be because it's difficult to remove sodium and maintain the flavor impact. In the United Kingdom, the government mandated that sodium be reduced in foods. Vil notes that they were using 25% to 30% more salt than we were in the United States: "In their case, they really had no choice. I do believe that even though our sodium levels may not be as high as they are in the United Kingdom, we probably will be pressured to lower sodium overall in our foods. I did some work with senior citizens, and quite frankly, sodium intake is something that is looked upon carefully. Although we're not seeing a big push right now, I truly believe that 10 years from now it's going to be a major issue in the United States because the population is aging." There's little question that baby boomers will impact the snack market. Besides demanding lower sodium, they might also seek a more-nutritional wallop. After all, these were the folks who embraced whole foods in the '60s and '70s. As they age and strive to maintain health and usefulness, they will most likely try to maintain their weight. "I think the U.S. government's new Dietary Guidelines," says Cynthia Harriman, manager of partner services, Oldways Preservation Trust, Boston, and representative for the Whole Grains Council, "are going to put a lot of attention on healthy snacks. Why? Because they emphasize that most of us, in our sedentary lifestyles, don't have any 'free calories' to waste on foods that don't bring us both good taste and good nutrition. That's fine; there's no need to choose between them." Whole grains are one way to provide nutritionally rich calories. "I think there's starting to be a lot of push in this area," says Ann Przybyla Wilkes, vice president of communications, Snack Food Association. "That will be definitely an area to watch." In a recent conversation Wilkes had with professors working in the area of whole grains, they noted the difficulties in increasing whole-grain consumption among children and low socioeconomic groups. "They said snack foods would be a great way to do it if snack food companies can find ways to introduce good-tasting whole-grain products," she says. Nuts are another way to add health to snacks, either as a seasoned, stand-alone choice, or as part of a snack mix. For a long time, nutrition experts had their reservations over their high fat contents -- in the range of 14 to 21 grams of fat per ounce. But this has turned into a boon, as studies now show that the type of fats in nuts, mainly monounsaturates and polyunsaturates, is actually a positive. Monounsaturated fatty acids help raise levels of high-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol) without increasing the low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) and polyunsaturated fatty acids lower both types. In 2003, the FDA approved a qualified health claim for almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts. Packages of nut products that meet the FDA's requirements can carry the following claim: "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." Nuts also provide protein; important minerals, such as copper, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium; vitamin E; and plant phytochemicals. According to a study at Loma Linda University in California, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, Sept. 6, 2004, when individuals added almonds (52 grams per day) as a snack to their regular diet, it increased their overall intake of several important nutrients. The findings indicate that the almonds might promote the natural displacement of less nutrient-dense foods, improving the overall diet. Nixtamalized noshing
One of the most-nutritious snack bases has been around since about 3500 B.C. The Mayans and the Aztecs produced masa by a process known as nixtamalization. They cooked corn in water and alkalinized it with wood ash. They then washed it and ground it into flour. The same process is simulated today by adding lime (calcium hydroxide) instead of wood ash. Processors cook corn kernels together with the lime and then steep them for three to eight hours. As the corn hydrates, the pericarp loosens and will be washed away. The alkaline environment also supports gelatinization of the amylose and amylopectin in the corn starch. This process increases the bioavailability of B vitamins. During the process, calcium is absorbed from the lime. Nixtamalization also denatures the protein, in the form of zein protein, which increases its functionality, making it ideal for sheeting. Almost all tortilla chips and corn chips are made from nixtamalized corn. Great variety exists among corn snacks. Foremost is the variety of corn used to make masa. Aside from the most-obvious choice of blue versus yellow corn, manufacturers should consider the more-subtle differences between white and yellow types. Flavor is less a consideration in choosing a corn hybrid since the cooking process develops the flavor. The amount of lime that remains after washing the corn will also help determine the flavor. Lastly, processors can grind the corn into many different granulations. Nutritionally, corn has several advantages. Unlike wheat, it's hypoallergenic. It's also all natural. Typically, corn flour contains 7% to 10% protein by weight, 6% to 10% fiber, 72% to 77% starch and 3.5% to 5% corn oil. The oil has high levels of linolenic and oleic acids, otherwise known as omega-6 and omega-9. Amylopectin, a complex carbohydrate that produces a low glycemic response, comprises most of the starch. While the dough itself is nutritionally sound, fat is added in the process of creating a fried snack. Still, masa absorbs about 25% less oil than rice, wheat or potato bases. Adding corn to other bases can reduce oil absorption, as well as improve flavor and functionality. Some products on the market rely on marriages of rice and corn. To increase their products' nutritional punch, some companies add soy protein concentrate or beans to the masa. For example, Garden of Eatin' -- part of the Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Boulder, CO -- offers a black-bean tortilla chip made from organic yellow corn and black beans. Plocky's Fine Snacks, Hinsdale, IL, makes a corn, brown-rice and black-bean tortilla chip, as well as a three-grain chip made from corn, cracked wheat, and brown rice. Starch solutions
While snack bases contain inherent starch, as in the amylose and amylopectin found in corn masa, adding other starches can often improve some of the product's properties. "A wide variety of raw ingredients, including potato flakes or granules, cereal flours, bean and lentil flakes, and even vegetable particulates, may be combined with a pregelatinized or cold-water-swelling starch to form a snack dough," says Sanjiv Avashia, senior food scientist, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL. "Starches provide the dough cohesion needed for sheeting and offer unique opportunities for improvement in texture and appearance of the finished product." Starches have numerous other functions. "Starch can be used for binding," says JennieAnn Reitemeyer, senior food scientist, Avebe America, Inc., Princeton, NJ. "It can be used for increasing throughput. It also can be used for the functionality in the final product, like expansion. Starch can also impact bite quality. Process is very important. In all snack foods, it's very good to understand the process and exact functionality that you're looking for. I typically ask my customers many questions. Is it going to be sheeted or extruded? Is it going to be fried or baked? Every one of those questions has something to do with the type of starch that we're going to select to recommend for them. "Most cases, you'd find starches in reformed chips, such as a Pringles®-type reformed chip," Reitemeyer continues. "A sheeted snack will typically use native potato starch -- basically to give it structure and some expansion, and a soft-bite quality. We use modified starches in that type of application to modify the texture." Starches can also increase crispness or denseness. "Tapioca can be used in almost all snacks, mainly for a crunchier, sometimes glasslike or brittle, texture," she says. "If we're looking to add a little more crunch, then we usually use a tapioca." Baked snacks require starch to improve texture, says David Huang, senior market development manager, National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, NJ: "If you want to adjust your texture attribute, you need to use a different starch. You really need to change the amylose-amylopectin ratio in your composition." Amylopectin gives a crispier texture. However, too much amylopectin can create a too-crispy product and result in excessive product breakage. In this case, a high-amylose starch can reduce the crispiness. Because of the limited moisture available in snack dough, Huang emphasizes using a pregelatinized waxy corn starch in baked snacks. Pregela-tinized starches have been precooked as well as   dried, so they do not require additional moisture or cooking to add textural attributes to a baked snack. If using an ordinary, untreated waxy starch, processing conditions in baked expanded snacks would not provide adequate gelatinization of the starch. Reitemeyer notes that product designers use a lot of pregelatinized starches for sheeting ability -- to make a more-cohesive dough. Extruded snacks have different requirements. "There are many types of snacks that can be extruded," says Reitemeyer. "There are half products, or pellets, which typically is a dough that is extruded and dried and then later fried, baked or microwaved -- further processed to form the actual chip or snack. Again, starches are used mainly for expansion reasons. Native starch, both potato and tapioca, can be used for expansion. We also have modified versions, which are typically waxy-maize product. Sometimes, the pregelatinized products are used for expansion. Depending on the actual product itself, native or cook-up-type starch could be used at around 30%. Again, that varies. The modified starches can be used approximately 10% to 15%. Typically, in almost all these products, these starches are added with the rest of the dry ingredients, and then they're batched into some sort of a dough, whether it's a crumbly dough or a pielike dough. Usually, the starch is added with the dry ingredients." Huang points out that the starch used in fried snacks must have unique considerations because of the high frying temperature. With flour, masa or natural starch -- rather than a modified starch -- the starch granules will swell and then burst. He likens the starch granule to a balloon that is overfilled with air until it collapses. "When it collapses, you will have nonuniformity of your starch structure," says Huang. "You may see a lot of holes. Sometimes you have 'toothpicking' texture. So, for snack applications, they do need to use a chemical-modified starch. Chemically modified starch adds some covalent bonds inside the starch so we can control this balloon to a certain size. In that case, you need to use a chemically cross-linked starch for frying-type products to help you build an internal structure so it won't cause starch-granule collapse." For extruded snacks, shear further stresses the starch, making the use of a chemically modified starch all the more necessary. It's also important to note that various chemically cross-linked starches will contribute to texture in different ways. Huang cautions that choosing starches in fried and extruded snacks can be very tricky. "There's so many," he says. "That's dependent on your temperature and how much shear. If you have too much chemical-cross-linked starch, the starch will not expand enough, so that means you have a crispy texture." The texture might even be too hard. Based on different conditions, such as high temperature and high shear or low temperature and low shear, he would recommend a different level of cross-linked starch to achieve the best texture. He describes it as very complicated because the process conditions must be fully understood before recommending a starch for a specific application. The half pellets are different, notes Huang, because there is a little less shear. "In pellet-type applications, for example, you may need general viscosity," he says. "You need a starch as a binder to help form your shape." Sophisticated, 3-D shapes are formed by high pressure. Keeping the same design shape throughout processing is a challenge. "You would use a different starch to achieve that kind of shape or to provide viscosity during the forming stage," he continues. "You can use so many different combinations for different purposes." While he recommends a modified starch, it could be chemically, physically or enzyme modified. Choosing the correct starch for a whole-grain product is critical because of the moisture demands caused by the high fiber content. Finding the balance between providing enough water to adequately hydrate the dough while maintaining dough integrity and cohesiveness can be difficult. "In this case," Huang says, "they can use different starches as a binder to help make it very easy to sheet so they can cut the shape or form. There are many different areas you can use specialty starch as a process aid to help you make the ideal shape, and make it easier to process so you don't have too much water." Starches are also used in coated nuts. "Starches are used for expansion or the crispy texture that you're adding around the nut," says Reitemeyer. "It's typically a fried product. There are some baked products that I know we've looked at, but again, the starch is doing the same thing: expansion as well as texture quality. Do we want it crispy, dense, less dense? Also, we do have a dextrin or a modified starch that we use for adhesion as well. The starch helps to adhere the other dry ingredients on the outside of the nut." In some snack applications, surface adhesion is important. Huang suggests using end tack, a food-grade adhesive, to adhere more seasoning to a baked-type snack. A dry-tack product can adhere large particles to the surface. "The general starch in use in a snack food is to modify the texture and the process ability," says Reitemeyer. "Typically, most manufacturers are aware that there are starches that help in different types of functionality." Huang says, too, it's important to consider the starch source: "Even with corn, you have waxy corn, regular corn, dent corn. It can come from potato, a sago starch or a tapioca starch." Different sources of starch are important because of variations in amylose to amylopectin ratios. These differences can include granule size and various other attributes, and their contributions are different. There are also flavor considerations. "Most people like a potato base and a potato starch," Huang says. Likewise, corn starch is often used with a corn masa base. "Corn starch does have a bit of corn flavor, but it is minimal," he says. "Sometimes, it's even better to use a combination. It depends on the texture and the flavor they want to come through." A snack for all seasonings
Starches can also help seasonings adhere to baked or reduced-oil snacks. Other applications might require different tricks to achieve adhesion. Often, manufacturers mix the seasoning with oil to form a slurry that can coat the snack as it rolls in a tumbler. This approach usually works well with popcorn and extruded snacks. However, fried snacks, when hot, usually have sufficient oil on the surface for seasonings to stick. As the snacks pass through a tumbler the seasonings are simply dusted on. Vil stresses there are many considerations in achieving optimum seasoning adhesion on a snack: "You may want to look at whether or not the seasoning would contain some large particles which may be quite dense, because if that's the case, it probably will bounce off the chip. You may want to consider whether the seasoning is free flowing, but then again, it can't be too free flowing because otherwise it will simply slide off. The temperature of the surface itself is critical, because if it is too cold, then more than likely you don't have much surface oil to basically allow the seasoning to adhere to. There are all sorts of considerations that are involved, including the environment in which the seasoning is being stored at the customer -- also what type of mechanism they're using to apply seasoning. Is it a tumbler? Is it simply a flour-sifter method? Do they spray oil before they apply seasoning? All of these things are important factors. It basically requires that we have some kind of partnership with our customers to be able to deliver optimum adhesion." According to Avashia, seasonings are typically applied at 8% to 12%, depending on the type of snack and flavor of the finished product. "A 3% to 5% oil spray is often applied prior to seasoning applications to aid adhesion," she says. "In low-fat snacks with a targeted fat level, adhesive systems other than oil may be utilized to minimize added fat grams." However, large particulates are often difficult to stick on the surface of snack foods. "As an alternative to an oil spray, an aqueous slurry of maltodextrin and tapioca dextrins at a 20% to 60% concentration may be applied to the snack surface prior to the particulate application," Avashia suggests. "The film-forming functionality of these products enables large particulates to adhere well to the surface of the snack food, but requires a final finish drying step to remove the excess water. A unique corn-syrup solid developed by Tate & Lyle allows for the adhesion of seasonings and large particles, such as vegetable flakes and seeds, without the need for an aqueous slurry. This can be dry blended with the particulates and applied on top of baked snacks. This specialty adhesive ingredient melts in the presence of mild heat to form a strong bond between the product surface and the particulates without imparting sweetness to the end product." Be aware of changes. Vil cautions that "every time you change a component in the manufacture of a snack, whether it is the surface itself, the grain or the frying oil -- or maybe the method in which the snack is being made -- (it) affects the way the way the seasonings will adhere to the base, and ultimately it affects the flavor delivery that the seasonings will impart to that particular snack. You cannot develop a seasoning for potato chips and expect it to have the exact profile if in one instance you're using corn oil and in another instance you're using palm oil. Definitely, there's a major difference." Flavoring is not just limited to the surface itself. Seasonings can be incorporated into snack bases, such as crackers, tortillas and pretzels. "You must be careful with this process," says Bill Rauh, manager, seasoning product development, McCormick & Co., Inc., Hunt Valley, MD. "Delicate flavors do not hold up as well using this method, and burning of ingredients is a possibility. When developing seasonings for the more-full-bodied, more-flavorful bases, we take into consideration the flavor of that base and the type of flavor profile that will complement that base. For example, in snack bases with grains like oats, we would look at honey or cinnamon as part of the flavor profile, whereas with wheat bases we may look at herbs with tomato or olive oil." Seasonings can indeed run the gamut from sweet to savory, but one word -- extreme -- describes the current flavoring trend. "There's been a lot of really strong ranches, Cheddars, a lot of double cheeses or triple cheeses," says Laura Vega, director of technical solutions, Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, IL. An extreme ranch, she explains, has more sour notes and is loaded with flavor. Manufacturers of more-expensive snacks might increase the amount of seasoning applied to the chip, she finds. Others are increasing the profile strength or improving the seasoning distribution on the snack. "Take any flavor profile and make it more intense: bolder cheeses, more cheese blends and spicier peppers," says Rauh. "There is also a trend of late for more-upscale profiles. Asiago and feta cheeses are gaining popularity, as are seasonings with olive oil and/or rosemary flavors. Bold visuals are also important. Cracked black pepper is an example. Paralleling the upscale genre is the trend toward ethnic profiles. Latin and Asian in particular are popular right now, and we are seeing more requests for Mediterranean profiles." Cynthia Sasaki, senior R&D manager, Kerry Savory, Kent, WA, also notes the trend toward gourmet flavors: "We are seeing chef influences in the flavor profiles that are currently being requested. Some of the snack companies are actually looking to research chefs for ideas." Schroeder notes that his company has received more requests for bolder flavors. "Not necessarily more heat, but just a bolder flavor, more spices, more complexity," she says, citing a definite increase in seasoning influenced by Latin American or Hispanic   cuisines. "Flavors that were not necessarily mainstream types of Hispanic flavor profiles are now becoming more common. People are much more familiar with terms like mojo and adobo." These types of dishes are very regional, yet Americans are now becoming aware of them. Vil says this expresses the complexity of the Latino palate. "For example, adobo is mostly a heavily Mexican influence whereas mojo is Cuban influence. Mojo, physically in the United States, started primarily in Florida and places like that, and now it's taking over the market itself. Again, it's showing when we think we understand Latino, in a way we are generalizing a bit too much because there are multiple profiles that fall under the Latino category." Typically, these flavors emerge in areas with a high population of a particular ethnic group. "It's not necessarily that people are always that aware of new flavors," Schroeder says. "There's kind of a fear factor involved as well. Obviously, the snack market is driven primarily by one major company and particular flavor profiles, and I think a lot of regional snack manufacturers are branching out and becoming much more daring. When consumers are offered the chance to try different things, they are willing and able to pick them up and try them." To introduce new flavors, some snack manufacturers are offering products for a limited time. "We've seen the snack manufacturers here attempt to drive the group, going with more short-time offerings," says Vil. "I'm assuming that the next step will truly be to go try to go after some ethnic offering and see which one actually will resonate and see which one the consumers will adopt. It's just a question of trying to find that one profile that will be the next ranch." There's no question dairy-based seasonings are here to stay. "I think sour cream and ranch are still mainstream flavor profiles," says Schroeder. "They're still kind of the standards." As are cheese flavors. "The best combination would be enhancing a cheese powder with flavor, even use the cheese powder as a base for the dairy notes," says Vega. "Most of the time, if you're making a Cheddar cheese seasoning, you might want notes from other cheeses to complement the profile. You might be coming up with a sharp-Cheddar profile, but you might be using a blue flavor or an aged-Parmesan note in there. So it wouldn't be an exotic type of profile, but you would really help to boost the Cheddar. In an American or a mild-Cheddar maybe, you might want butter notes, sour-cream notes as a base. So your flavors aren't similar to what's out there, you try to complement the profile as much as you can so you can be different and have your own signature." To control costs, Vega suggests starting with an inexpensive dairy blend, such as a cheese powder, whey and sour cream. "With flavors, you can achieve a profile that is very similar to one that would have an expensive cheese powder in it," she says. "You would use your dairy raw materials and your flavor and some acids, salt, and MSG and build a cost-reduced version." At McCormick, Rauh says some of the more-common types include Cheddar, ranch, Southwest ranch and chili cheese. "To satisfy an ever-changing industry, we are constantly adding new and exciting flavors to meet the latest trends," he says. "Recently, in addition to seasonings with bold flavors, blends that fit ethnic cooking styles have been common. Spice-blend requests have included herbs de Provence, Chinese five-spice, Mexican chiles and numerous sweet-spice blends. 'Hot' seasonings now include Thai red curry, wasabi ranch, spicy cheese and hot sauce seasoning." Fruits are also getting nods in the snack world, notes Sasaki: "We have had requests for a fruit flavor for a tortilla chip, a potato chip and for some for the whole-grain chips that are being sold. Lime is popular, plus we've seen some requests for strawberries and other citrus fruits." Yet, according to Vil, the most-popular spices used in snack seasonings still include black pepper, chile peppers, onion and garlic. These are the staples. Global snack attack
When traveling the globe, certain spices take prominence. It's not surprising then to see paprika as the No. 1 snack seasoning in Germany (neighbor Holland is the bell pepper capital of the world), the use of ginger in Asia or coriander in India. "If you look at Asia, they tend to look at a lot more natural product," says Vil. "But whenever they use the flavor profile, it is designed to basically clean up a lot quicker, whereas in the United States, we like stronger flavors that last longer." While Vil cautions against generalizing, he finds that, as far as Europe goes, people in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands might snack a lot more than other places. "Snacking," he says, "is in its infancy in Europe. If you walk into the supermarket in England, you will see an abundance of ethnic flavors and also bases that are totally different. The variety is huge. There are names that perhaps people wouldn't have heard of -- and yet, they are willing to try. Mostly, they are for a limited-time offering, but nevertheless, it's much more vibrant in terms of ethnic offerings. People in the United Kingdom typically, when they go on vacation, tend to go to places like Turkey, Morocco, Spain, southern part of France or Italy, and so therefore they are constantly experimenting with new types of flavors, and that process is why there is so much interest." Historically, England has had influence on, and been influenced by, countries all over the world. "There are so many different groups that have migrated into England," says Vil. "Indian cuisine, for all purposes, has become the national cuisine of England," noting that in England, curries and other profiles have taken over. "That kind of flavor profile is becoming more mainstream, too. Therefore, there is a willingness of the people to more-readily embrace different flavors than we would in the States. Again, it's kind of a contradiction because traditional English cooking is bland. You boil everything and there's no flavor in it, and yet they're embracing highly flavored ethnic food." But, step outside of England and a small handful of other countries, and the snacking situation dramatically changes. "Snacks are consumed at a much lower level than they are in the United States," says Vil. "When you go to Europe, it's very hard to see big bags of snacks like you do in the United States. Large bags would normally contain several smaller, differently flavored bags of snacks." Undoubtedly, Americans remain the king of snack-food consumers. "Snacking has become America's fourth meal of the day, playing an important role in the diet," says Rauh. "New flavor, nutritional and packaging enhancements keep consumer needs fulfilled with new snack products -- and consumers have responded positively, as seen in the growth of the category." Snack foods have a long and storied history. "Potato chips have been around 150 years, and in 150 years they'll still be around," says Wilkes. "Pretzels date back to 700 A.D., so I think it's always going to be around. There's always going to be snacking, something to eat that is convenient in between meals."Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected].
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