“Healthy Snack Revolution”

By Beau Giannini
July 30, 2009

It’s difficult to find great tasting snacks without having to compromise your health. There are very few mainstream food companies truly dedicated to keeping people healthy. Historically, organic grocery offerings have only catered to a niche customer base, and the prices are usually high and the taste is “acquired” at best. This has all changed though in the last few years. There is a healthy eating revolution taking place, and consumers cutting across all demographics are shopping for food to make them feel and look better. It’s a movement driven by individual demand, and it’s the small to medium sized companies that are both leading and defining the movement -“ forcing the large brands and grocery stores to change.

The snack food market is full of products that are potentially harmful to the body -“ processed, full of preservatives, chemicals and hydrogenated fats. These processed, engineered foods require more energy to produce and package, yet are typically the least expensive, making them the only food options for some families. They are designed to optimize taste, but in order to keep costs down, healthy attributes are compromised.

With vision and determination, it’s possible for companies to make organic snack food lines more accessible to people around the globe, while staying keenly aware of the impact on the environment. The food we consume should be good for both the body and the environment. Equally as important though, the taste profile must have widespread appeal. Today’s consumers want to choose products because they taste good, and then as a secondary benefit, because the products make them feel good about having chosen a healthy alternative. The only way to move consumer purchasing towards healthier options is to make a product that is as good as or better than the most popular processed products out there. Today’s consumers want a balanced healthy life, and that starts with what goes into their bodies, but they’ll ultimately only consume based upon taste.

As the organic movement expands, brands have the opportunity to choose ingredients from a growing scope of organic suppliers and every day we’re seeing innovation in the organic space. The world organic marketplace is keenly involved with ensuring that the benefits are shared by supplier, brand and consumer -“ and the environment. With sophisticated global sourcing operations, it’s possible to reduce the required energy inputs needed for production. Minimal mechanization and more local labor, reduces the carbon footprint, while bolstering the local economies.

In the organic fruit area, when new orchards are planned around the world, often innovative ideas from wealthy Western countries are shared with tenant farmers. These farmers are usually offered free organic technique education, and often the tenant farmers are paid above market prices. Alternative, eco-friendly methods are employed such as wrapping the apple trees with sticky papers to prevent crawling critters from climbing up to the treetops, and hanging gourds filled with natural sugar water to attract bugs away from the fruit. No chemicals/synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used which means naturally healthy soil, which encourages the return of biodiversity to the agricultural system and ensures no harmful runoff in to surrounding watersheds. Farmers will only decide to grow organic produce if it’s economically advantageous. The leading organic brands work with suppliers to make organic farming viable, sustainable and worth expanding.

It’s also incredibly important to have products certified to show that they are produced with the highest standards. Third party certifying organizations play a critical role around the world, establishing standards and ensuring quality. Every major country in the world has representative offices that routinely visit orchards, suppliers, factories -“ everyone involved in the chain. As an example, the USDA works with a company in China called EcoCert, which is an international third party certifying body that verifies organic claims and grants organic certifications on behalf of the USDA. Other important globally recognized certifications are Kosher, Halal, Vegan and Gluten Free. In the past, these seals of approval implied “expensive” and “not very tasty.” Perception is changing rapidly.

The world of “organics” attracts impassioned people with a strong sense purpose. It’s an interesting group ranging from ayurvedic farmers in India, to apple growers in Chile, to soccer moms looking to make the world a better place in their neighborhoods. There’s a contagious energy behind the movement, because it’s all about effecting positive change and doing things that are good for you and good for those around you. The American consumer is going into their corner stores and large supermarkets and asking for organic snacks. Now it’s up to US brands to adjust their guiding principals and dip into their immense wells of creativity to produce food that is affordable, healthy and great tasting.

A healthy body and mind is our greatest asset. It starts with what we eat.

Beau Giannini is President of Yogavive. Born in Italy, raised in the USA and now living between Shanghai and San Francisco, Beau has always had a very international approach to business. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College in Asian Studies and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.