Trail Mixes Can Be Key To Healthier Lifestyles

Originally printed in the March 2020 issue of Produce Business.

Savvy marketing, quality products can help retailers capitalize on growing interest.

American consumers love trail mix — even if they experience a bit of difficulty precisely defining it.

Indeed, adding to the confusion is the fact trail mixes have a variety of aliases, including snack mix, party mixture, blend, and even GORP.

The bottom line, though, is that whatever they are called, Americans enjoy them. Trail mixes are a natural part of their ongoing obsession with healthier eating. That means retailers must make certain their produce departments offer adequate space for a good variety of high quality products, help draw shoppers’ attention to them, and tell the category’s quite excellent story.

“There isn’t a clear definition,” admits Greg Glasser, president of Torn & Glasser Inc. in Los Angeles, “but trail mixes typically have nuts/seeds with other items such as dried fruit, chocolate/yogurt chips or coated nuts or fruits, or snack items like sesame sticks. Trail mixes are great on their own, on a salad, as a breakfast topping, or even as an ice cream topping.”

Torn & Glasser has been family-owned and operated since 1928. Today, it is an importer, processor, and packer of nuts, dried fruits, beans, rice, spices, candies and grains.

“A trail mix contains any combination of seeds, nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, yogurt or legumes,” says Stephanie Blackwell of Aurora Products Inc., in Orange, CT. The company, founded in 1998, packages quality all-natural and organic dried fruits, nuts, trail mixes, salad toppings and granolas. They contain no preservatives, artificial colors or additives.

“The combination of nuts, seeds and dried fruit as a trail snack dates to the 1910’s, when Horace Kephart recommended it in his camping guide,” says Lisa Smith, senior marketing communications manager for Tropical Foods in Charlotte, NC. “Still a favorite snack of hikers and people on-the-go, mixes offer a lot of nutritional value in a handful.”

Nuts and seeds form the base of trail mixes for a reason, she says, “They provide a great balance of protein, fat and fiber.” Adding dried fruit to mixes adds vitamins and taste appeal in the form of a savory/sweet contrast. “Some people like a small bit of chocolate candy too, so dark chocolate is always a good option since it has nutrients that help protect the heart.”

Tropical Foods often refers to its mixes as “snack mixes.” As flavors and ingredients have evolved over the years, Smith points out, “we think this is a better term for the snack. We refer to our mixes as snack mixes on packaging, our websites and any advertisements.”

Tropical Foods is a 40-year-old, second-generation, family-owned business founded in 1977. Its SQF, kosher and organic production facilities in Charlotte and Orlando roast nuts and seeds daily and blend more than 60 bulk snack mixes.

Karina Muller, marketing director for Waymouth Farms in New Hope, MN, says she considers trail mixes to be “any combination of nuts, fruit, candy pieces, pretzels, and other components that provide taste, texture and flavor variety. Trail mix benefits can range from fueling your body to fulfilling a craving.” The company markets the Good Sense line of nuts and seeds, trail mixes, chocolate and yogurt snacks and dried fruits.

Waymouth Farms wisely does its best to dispel right up front any confusion the consumer might experience. Says Muller, “We typically call out that the product is a ‘trail mix.’ We then provide a descriptive name, such as Chocolate Cranberry Nut Mix. We follow the descriptive name with a list of components, such as ‘chocolate chips, peanuts, almonds, cranberries, sunflower nuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds and apples’.”

Good Sense includes an extensive variety of trail mixes including Cross ‘N Country, Cranberries ‘N Moore, Tropical Sunshine, Sweet Heat, Canyon Mix, Cherry Almond Fruit ‘N Nut Mix, Caramel Nut Delite, Honey Nut Crunch, and others.

Parts Of The Mix

Like any product category, trail mixes must be approached by produce departments with an eye toward their place in the market and the consumers who purchase them. Some of the factors fueling sales include:

Target Market: The primary demographic group, according to executives at Tropical Foods, is comprised of young adults. “They are key consumers of trail mixes, with the 18-to-34 age group highly represented,” according to Smith.

Blackwell identifies the category’s biggest consumers as “active people ranging from four years old to 90.” They are also people who buy into and support Aurora’s values and involvement — so-called “cause marketing” — which helps to move the needle at retail. The company has been a leader in giving back to many charitable and educational programs.”

Good Sense targets on-the-go Millennials. “From our research,” explains Muller, “we have learned Millennials are looking for healthy, tasty, convenient, on-the-go snack options that will fuel their busy day. Ninety-one percent of Millennial American consumers snack multiple times each day, and 8% of Millennials replace entire meals with snacks.”

Sampling: Retailers, says Smith, “are always trying samplings and displays to attract a wide range of demographics to buy the product. Selling trail mixes in the produce department is a great way to align the snack with other better-for-you foods.”

Health: Surveys taken across the nation have consistently shown millions of Americans want to know if the food they are consuming contains GMOs. Despite that, many packaged foods still contain them. In fact, a great many of the trail mix companies have embraced all-natural ingredients and assured consumers on their packaging the products contain no genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Blackwell, of Aurora Products, notes, “there are way too many new varieties to mention. However, the latest fad is keto mixes that contain fat and protein with very little carbs. Two years ago, paleo mixes were the latest fad.”

Muller predicts trail mix trends will continue to move toward clean ingredient decks and nutrient-dense ingredients. Manufacturers and retailers “should not lose sight of the importance of indulgent trail mixes as well,” she adds, “because they have been, and will continue to be, strong performers.”

Education: Mixes with clean and organic ingredients, along with unique flavors and seasonings, are increasingly trendy, and sales are growing, says Glasser. Retailers should also use websites, signs and sampling to spur trial.

Education can prove to be key. “Retailers can spotlight their better-for-you trail mixes with signage and displays,” notes Smith. “Trail mix is considered an ideal snack food post workout since it’s lightweight, easy to store and nutritious, providing a quick energy boost from the carbohydrates in the dried fruit and sustained energy from fats in the nuts. ’”

Packaging: All of Waymouth Farms’ Good Sense trail mixes, as well as its Good Sense nuts, seeds, fruit and organic offerings, are convenience items that are available in resealable pouches and can be easily eaten on the go.

Aurora offers mixes packaged in clear “car cup” containers for consumers on the go. Says Blackwell, “We also offer single-serve bags, as well as bags that contain one large serving or two smaller servings.” Her company’s consumers say they also enjoy using trail mixes for salad toppings, dessert toppings or baking.

Torn & Glasser offers resealable containers for snacking, as well as smaller pack sizes.

Tropical Foods carries more than 70 snack mixes it sells in bulk and a variety of packaging. “Most of our snacks come in resealable packaging, which is ideal for on-the-go snacking,” says Smith. “Our Grabeez line of resealable cups is one of our best sellers.”

Usage Occasions: Trail mixes can be used in a variety of formats. “We’ve seen them featured in recipes in unique and exciting ways, used as a topping for oatmeal or ice cream, or mixed with other snack components to create your own custom blend,” says Smith.

Snacking, Waymouth Farms’ management has found, is the No. 1 use of trail mixes. They can also be used to top salads, yogurt, oatmeal, cottage cheese, cereal, and popcorn, says Muller. “They are a great addition to school lunches, and are packed with healthy energy to start your day or fuel your afternoon.”