Despite the seemingly paradoxical name “healthy junk food”, new snacks and drinks have taken consumers by surprise, becoming a new growth engine for local and multinational food companies.
As much as consumers strive to enjoy the convenience of snacks, at the same time, they still want more nutritional and health benefits and superior tastes.
Many new food and beverage formats have emerged with low-fat and low-sugar options, sparking a debate about how to break into a new category and change consumer minds.
Years ago, Wei Long, a well-known Chinese snack company, started offering gluten-free, vegan Spicy Konjac noodles, after decades of success with their traditional spicy slices made from dried bean curd.
This trend has become even more evident in recent years.
Nutrition and health benefits are the top factors when Gen-Z shoppers buy food, followed by price and environmental impact, according to a survey by financial news portal Yicai of over 4,000 consumers.
They also consciously try to maintain an eating habit that includes eggs and daily meals, vegetables and fruits every day.
As a result, even the most traditional potato chips have now adopted a new recipe.
After upgrading two potato chip production lines last year, Lay’s China said all five of its domestic production plants have adopted new facilities for a low-fat version of potato chips.
The upgrade of a total of 11 production lines across the five sites has been completed, with the overall product upgrade work taking about a year and a half.
Using a type of oil with less saturated fat, the new recipe has reduced the saturated fat content by 50 percent in more than 300 types of chips produced by Lay’s for the domestic market.
Another example is milk tea, an iconic drink extremely popular among local consumers.
Heytea has recently updated its nutrition table to allow those who order online to have a better idea of their calorie intake when they want to treat themselves to a nice drink.
It is hoped that the chart with specific amounts of energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates, covering a total of dozens of types of drinks, will provide guidance for consumers interested in nutrition.
Indeed, by creating a new category completely unrelated to the original brand and becoming a forerunner in the field, the business is also likely to establish its leading position and dominate the sector.
Lan Fong Yuen, a Hong Kong-based beverage brand owned by Xiangpiaopiao Food Co, has introduced a low-sugar lemon tea after enjoying years of success in creating instant milk powder tea in paper cups.
As the absolute dominant player in the milk tea powder category for more than a decade, founder Jiang Jianqi felt it imperative to introduce a brand new category amid growing consumer health concerns and intense competition in the packaged milk tea sector.
Low-sugar bottled tea was launched earlier this year, allowing consumers to build a strong mindset for the brand’s new category, and Jiang expects nationwide sales to double next year to about 200 million yuan (27, 32 million USD) this year.
“Competition is intensifying in every aspect: consumers need their everyday drinks to be reasonably priced, tasty and healthy, which is driving high demand for all businesses,” he told an industry forum in Shanghai earlier in October.
Industry observers believe that it is essential for companies to create new brand images and proper marketing efforts should be made so that buyers can have a clear concept of the new product lines and what differentiates them from the previous ones.
Zhang Yun, global CEO of Ries Category Creation Strategy & Consulting and president of Ries China, believes there is still huge opportunity for low-fat and low-sugar snacks and beverages.
“A low-fat, low-sugar option allows customers to assuage their guilt. But low-fat offerings alone are no guarantee of success when food companies create new categories and new flavors,” he noted.
“It’s a delicate effort to find the right moment and create brand recognition in line with changing consumer mindsets.”
In a sense, the timing and positioning of the brand is always critical, which boils down to consumer perception of the product category in a broader sense and why it is indispensable compared to its competitors.