When snacking becomes healthy
New local producers bite into a growing market
Whether it is quinoa chips or chia seed cookies, snack food products, once dismissed as pure junk, have taken a turn toward the healthy and natural, and it seems the world’s consumers couldn’t be happier.
Globally, consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of a good diet on their health, according to Reema Mansour, founder of Biolicious, a Lebanese company which produces organic and gluten-free snacks and foods. “People are much more aware that what they eat has a direct impact on how they feel. Plus, there has been a large global rise in food sensitivities and allergies,” Mansour explains.
This increased awareness has come with a splurge in spending, too. According to Euromonitor, a global market research firm, worldwide sales of health food products are estimated to reach $1 trillion by the end of 2017. Between 2015 and 2020, the global organic food market is projected to register a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent, according to a TechSci Research report entitled “Global Organic Food Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2020.”
The agro-industrialists Executive spoke to believe that healthy and natural snack food is not just another passing fad, but a lifestyle change that is here to stay. “I don’t see the health food industry dying any time soon. It’s one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and everything is being switched to something healthy: equipment lines are being redesigned to produce healthier food and chocolate companies, such as Cadbury and Mars, have reduced their portion sizes. Everybody is trying to ride the bandwagon of health. It’s not a trend; it’s a fact and reality,” emphasizes Soumaya Merhi, founder of Lebanese company BreadBasket sal, which produces several varieties of healthy snacks branded Taqa.
THE LEBANESE SCENE
Lebanon has only recently hopped on the organic and natural foods bandwagon. Less than 10 years ago, the few brands of natural or health foods available in Lebanon were restricted
to a couple of shelves in the corner of the supermarket labeled “diet.” Today, however, many of Beirut’s and Mount Lebanon’s supermarkets have dedicated health food sections, which are awash with imported brands of gluten free and organic items. Moreover, there are at least 20 specialty shops across Lebanon that only sell natural or organic food products.
Although there are no numbers that quantify the market size of healthy snack foods in Lebanon, indicators suggest that it remains a niche, despite its rapid development. This could be due to the price of such products – especially when imported – or the lack of awareness of the importance of healthy eating among many Lebanese. “In Lebanon, there are many locals who lack health awareness. For example, many don’t eat olive oil because they think it’s fattening and they don’t know its health benefits; or they eat gluten free bread since it’s the trend,” says Hill Skaff, processed food value chain leader at the USAID funded Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD).
MADE IN LEBANON
While snack food production is arguably well-developed in Lebanon, it is no easy task to find locally produced and healthier varieties of savory or sweet treats. Recently, major food producers in Lebanon have woken up to the potential profit in healthy snack foods and have introduced alternative snacks to their existing production lines. Examples include Masters Chips introducing air-popped rice crackers, Al-Oumara bakeries launching rice cakes and oat breads, and Castania Nuts producing trail mixes.
Meanwhile, the past five years have seen an emergence of small-to-medium sized enterprises that solely produce healthy snack foods. Their number, however, remains quite low, and they face numerous challenges.
The most common challenges that companies voiced to Executive were elevated production costs and difficulty in gaining market exposure. “These companies need support to get more exposure and awareness among consumers. On the technical level, in healthy foods production, they need semi or full automated equipment to decrease their cost of production, and standardize products,” says Skaff, giving the example of how LIVCD invested in semi-automated machines to help ready-to-eat kibbeh producers decrease the time spent on producing them manually.
Major food producers in Lebanon have woken up to the potential profit in healthy snack foods
Eshmoon uses locally grown apples and oranges