Originally printed in the March 2018 issue of Produce Business.
A healthy option with many uses to entice consumers.
Trail mix’s popularity is pushing retailers to think beyond simply filling shelves. They now must carry an abundance of new varieties to attract discriminating consumers.
Some options offer unique flavors that are spicier, sweeter, hotter or unique in some enticing way. But it is largely health-conscious consumers who buy this category — it was first made for snacking while on a wilderness trek — and many of the new varieties stand out because they have some particular nutritional value, be it healthy fats, fiber or protein.
“I see mixes becoming a bit more complex as far as the different ingredients that you see in them and also more focused on health, flavor trends and dietary restrictions,” says Chad Hartman, director of marketing at Truly Good Foods, Charlotte, NC.
“Historically, we have seen a lot of nut and fruit mixes, along with savory crunchy mixes,” adds Hartman. “We are starting to see consumer demand for mixes with a twist; sweet-and-spicy or sweet-and-savory mixes are coming into their own. We are also keeping our eye on dessert mixes.”
Truly Good Foods is a 40-year-old family business that produces more than 3,000 “healthier-than-most” snack products.
Snacks With Benefits
Most trail mix, nearly 80 percent, is eaten as a portable snack healthier than potato or corn chips, or some sugary concoction, according to Paul Bellacero, director of sales development at Aurora Products in Orange, CT.
There is a market for mixes that offer some highly specific nutritional benefit such as better coronary health.
“There is a trend toward cleaner ingredients or ingredients with added benefits such as a mix that is good for your heart,” says Greg Glasser, president of Torn & Glasser, Los Angeles. “Some new varieties are organic and some mixes are focused on morning snacking.”
Torn & Glasser has been producing nuts, dried fruit, bean, rice, grain and other products for 90 years.
The nutritional benefits of dried fruits and nuts make them appealing as ingredients to add to healthier breakfast cereal options.
“Granola can be a little plain, and adding some trail mix can help,” says Glasser. “The primary use is as a portable healthy snack, but you can put them on yogurt or ice cream, and they can be added to oatmeal or other cereal.”
The market for an increasing variety of mixes has enabled some of the producers to keep growing at a healthy rate. “Line extensions have helped us continue to increase our volume,” says Bellacero.
Aurora Products has spent 20 years producing natural, healthy fruit, nut, bean and grain-based foods. Among its 30 offerings, Aurora features 5K Omega mix, which includes cranberries, raisins, pepitas, almonds, cashews, walnuts and pistachios. Its Antioxidant Mix features cranberries, almonds, walnuts, cherries, blueberries and ginger.
“Some products are out there with artificial colors or artificial flavors; it dilutes the message of better-for-you snacks,” says Bellacero. “If people are looking for natural and organic, we are in with those products.”
Make It Spicy or Sweet
Although good nutrition is at the heart of the appeal of these mixes of dried fruits and nuts, producers are finding favor with new varieties that offer special flavors.
“There are seasonal mixes people are going for,” says Bellacero. “Autumn Mix has cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Hot and spicy is for the winter. Spiked is one with a little bourbon that one market is considering. These seasonal mixes seem to be trending.”
As the flavors become more varied and interesting, the trail mix category begins to define itself more broadly.
“Trail mix is a mixture of snacks, typically based in nuts and dried fruit,” says Hartman. “We have transitioned to calling them snack mixes as a general category, and then get more specific with different flavor profiles (i.e., nut and fruit, sweet and salty, dessert).”
Truly Good Foods has introduced a line of trail mixes targeting consumers looking for interesting variety, including trEAT4u, a 1-ounce snack-bag mix that includes cranberries, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews and blueberries.
“Some products are out there with artificial colors or artificial flavors; it dilutes the message of better-for-you snacks.”
– Chad Hartman, Truly Good Foods
Truly Good also features a lineup of dessert mixes that includes Apple Crisp mix with cinnamon apples, caramel bits, natural cinnamon yogurt raisins and golden raisins with walnuts and roasted and salted pecans. Yogurt Ambrosia consists of raisins, yogurt raisins, pineapple, almonds, papaya, coconut and walnuts. But the pinnacle of healthy “sin” could be Banana Split, which the company promises tastes just like its namesake with roasted and salted peanuts, pineapple, chocolate chunks, cherry-flavored cranberries, banana chips, and caramel and marshmallow bits.
“There’s a flavor for every taste bud,” says Hartman. “We recommend recipes. Try taking a fruit-and-nut mix and stirring it into muffins or bread. Or for an ice cream or yogurt topping, try a fruit-and-nut or a dessert mix.”
The best place and way to display the trail mixes depends on the store and on the uses being promoted.
“Whole Foods has a whole section with our stuff together,” says Bellacero. “It works best to go to a separate area for nuts and dried fruits.”
All retailers, from markets such as Whole Foods to deep discounters and convenience stores, are offering wide varieties of mixes in jars, bags and snack packs. But retailers who position these products near produce items can more easily tout their healthy benefits through signage or cross-merchandising. A relatively small area can be enough to effectively promote trail mixes. “I’ve seen some effective end caps or side stacks of trail mix,” says Glasser. “Put it in a dry area within produce.”
You can also sell them in a bulk section within the produce department, where consumers frequently purchase trail mixes.
“We don’t have a lot of customers on the West Coast, but when I was out there, I saw many accounts do great stuff with bulk mixes, Barons (Poway, CA), Sprouts (Phoenix), Frazier Farms (Vista, CA) … all very impressive sets,” says Hartman.