Trail Mixes are More Popular Than Ever

Trail Mix

The demand for healthier snacks is helping spur the growth in sales.

Nuts About FloridaAlthough trail mixes have been around for more than 100 years, they have never been more popular.

Statistics from IRI, a market intelligence, data and analytics company headquartered in Chicago, reports sales of trail mixes rose about 5 percent in the year ending March 20, 2016, registering around $1 billion dollars in total sales.

Chad Hartman, director of marketing for Tropical Foods, Charlotte, NC, says his company has experienced double-digit sales increases in the trail mix category. Stephanie Blackwell, owner of Aurora Products, located in Orange, CT, says her company’s trail mixes have produced steady sales increases over the years.  Trail mixes have evolved and have changed dramatically over the decades. Once known as GORP, (good old raisins and peanuts), trail mix generally refers to any combination of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, granola, and even chocolate.

“I do not think there is any hard and fast definition of trail mix,” says Blackwell. “It covers a wide variety of ingredients.”

Sometimes trail mix and snack mix are used interchangeably. The mixes occasionally are called blends or clusters.  Joseph Setton, vice president of domestic sales and marketing of Setton Farms in Terra Bella, CA, believes blends connote a higher quality of ingredients.

Trail mix got its name because it was developed as a food to be taken along on hikes because it’s easy to carry and nutritious. The snack’s popularity rocketed in the 20th century, when outdoorsman Horace Kephart recommended it in his popular camping guide.

Today, however, only a minority of those who consume trail mix have ever hiked on a trail.  They are more likely to have streamed the latest episode of Game of Thrones on their smart phone or downloaded Beyonce’s latest hit from iTunes.

Young Adults Are Key Consumers

According to a report from Mintel, a London-based market research firm, young adults are key consumers of trail mix in the United States, with the 18- to 34-year-olds highly represented on almost all types of trail mix.  Millennials are known for their snacking habits. Fifty percent of Millennials average at least four meals or snacks per day, and 7 percent say they snack or graze throughout the day, according to How America’s Eating Habits Are Changing, a report from New York-based Private Label Manufacturers Association.

Twenty percent of all meal occasions are snacks, according to Mintel. These snacks account for 25 percent of all calories consumed.

Millennials and Baby Boomers seek healthier snacks that offer interesting flavors and textures. Consumers are looking for high-carb and high-protein snacks that provide energy and fill them up. Trail mixes, with their endless combinations, are the ideal product.

Produce departments can take advantage of this exciting — and growing — category. Aurora Products’ Blackwell believes there are several reasons why trail mix sells so much better in the produce department. “Trail mixes are generally displayed better in the produce department.  They are more visible and appealing. In other parts of the store, they are put on the shelf and aren’t as visible,” she says.

Tropical Foods’ Hartman agrees. “It’s always great to be associated with fresh fruit and vegetables,” he says. “Plus, trail mix is often an impulse buy, or a grab-and-go purchase. Trail mixes and produce departments are a natural combination.”

Eric Sim, senior brand associate, global marketing for John B. Sanfilippo & Son located in Elgin, IL, and the makers of the Orchard Valley Harvest brand, says, “Consumers expect healthier, cleaner products from the produce section, which is keeping with the trail mix message as an alternative to more unhealthy snacks and sugary treats.”

Setton says nut mixes and blends align well with the produce department. “Nuts, particularly pistachios, are known for their health benefits and nutrients. Plus, they have become more a part of the daily lifestyle and every day meals.”

It’s All In The Mix‭

Trail mix is no longer the mundane combination of raisins and peanuts. They can be sweet and savory, bold and spicy, or ethnically inspired. For example, Aurora Products’ most popular mix, cranberry health mix, features cranberries, raisins, walnuts, pepitas, almonds, roasted peanuts and shelled raw sunflower seeds. Its pub spicy blend includes rice crackers, Cajun flavored croutons, sesame sticks with salt, wasabi peas, corn nuts, butter toasted peanuts and roasted peanuts. The company’s Asian trail mix consists of rice crackers with Tamari almonds, sesame sticks and wasabi green peas.

Tropical Foods’ ReCharge mixes are naturally enhanced snacks that range in flavors, but are packed with vitamins and probiotics. ReCharge mixes are available in three flavors: Dark Chocolate Energy Boost, Super Charged Cranberry Blend and Chia ReCharged Stix Mix. The Dark Chocolate Energy Boost contains chocolate coffee beans, as well as dark chocolate probiotic cranberries. Omega-3 fortified cranberries and probiotic dark chocolate cranberries comprise the Super Charged Cranberry Blend. The Chia ReCharged Stix Mix contains cranberries and diced pineapple, as well as crunchy chia sticks.

Setton Farms introduced three blends in 2016 and plans to introduce two more in the spring of 2017.  The company’s most popular blend, Pistachio Berry, features pistachios, cherries, cranberries, roasted almonds, cashews and white chips. Its crème brulee blend combines roasted cashews, toffee peanuts, butterscotch and white chips, while its sweet and salty blend includes roasted almonds, cashews, peanuts with sea salt, honey and sesame stix.

This year, Orchard Valley Harvest launched two new wellness mixes, including an Omega-3 mix and an antioxidant mix in both multi-packs and grab-and-go sizes.

According to Setton, plant protein-based snacks are a growing item.  “They are healthy, fun and delicious,” he says. “Consumers are driving the category.”

“Consumers are willing to pay for premium ingredients,” points out Blackwell.  “They are searching for quality. They don’t want just peanuts; they prefer walnuts and almonds. We are starting to see some combinations that we would never had dreamed of a few years ago.”

All-Natural Ingredients

In a recent Nielson study, snacks with all-natural ingredients were rated very important by 45 percent of global respondents, the highest percentage out of the 20 health attributes included in the study. The other top five attributes included absence of genetically modified organisms (43 percent); high fiber (37 percent); low sugar (34 percent); and low salt (34 percent).

Blackwell says more interest is also being shown in trail mixes that are gluten-free and sustainable. “The fact that our products are fresh, organic and natural is a great selling point,” she says.

Sim says the first key trend Orchard Valley Harvest tapped into was the desire for less processed products and cleaner ingredients. Orchard Valley Harvest product line contains no artificial ingredients, flavors, colors or preservatives; and they are all non-GMO.

Tropical Foods’ Hartman says consumers are reading labels closely and looking for various health attributes.  “Our products are geared toward the knowledgeable consumer.” The Private Label Manufacturers Association’s report found that nine out of 10 Millennials say they are aware of the ingredients in the food products they eat, and three out of four read the nutritional labels on the products.

Desire For Convenience

According to Hartman, snacking and the desire for convenience are two trends that aren’t going away. Consequently, there has been an increased emphasis on packaging. Grab-and-go items and single-serving packets appeal to consumers. A recent Mintel survey indicated that consumers would like to see more packaging options, such as resealable packs (43 percent) and single-serving packs (27 percent).

“People are in a hurry and they are often eating on the run,” says Blackwell. “That’s why we offer single-serving packs and snack-size packs.” She says the trend is now toward a heftier single serving or perhaps even a double serving, instead of the 100-calorie packs.

“There’s definitely more on-the-go eating,” says Setton.  “That’s why our resealable 5-ounce bag is popular.”

Tropical Foods has developed Grabeez snack cups to accommodate those who are looking for convenience and portability. The snack cups are offered in 15 varieties of nuts, snack mixes and candies and range from 2 ounces to 7.5 ounces. Sim says convenient, on-the-go packaging is another area where Orchard Valley Harvest is finding success. The brand has expanded its offerings to include single serve Grab & Go bags that weigh 2 ounces or less and multi-packs with 8-count, 1-ounce inner bags. “These convenient packages have been a big driver of growth for the brand,” he says.

Future Looks Bright

The future looks bright for the trail mix category.  “We expect to see continued growth,” says Hartman. “Trail mix is an exciting category. You can do so much with it. You can easily adapt it to the marketplace, changing it to address specific nutritional and/or flavor interests.”

Blackwell says her company is focused on developing new value-added items. “Consumers are always looking for something new, different or unique, and trail mix has the ability to be all of that. Our research and development department is busy coming up with new value-added items.”>

“Consumers, who are trapped for time, meaning most of us, will always be looking for more convenience from their snacking and meal options,” says Sim.