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From Less Sugar to Added Protein

Manufacturers of bakery snacks must now address a multitude of consumer health demands. Most recent data suggests that snacking increased significantly throughout the world during the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Jonathan Thomas

According to the Global Consumer Snacking Trends report released by Mondelez International in 2020, 52% of survey respondents described snacking as a ‘lifesaver’ during the worst months of the pandemic and its associated lockdown measures, with 88% of adults admitting to snacking either the same or more frequently compared to before. These trends continue to offer significant opportunities for manufacturers of bakery snacks. 

However, although consumers have been seeking out products positioned as indulgent to give themselves an affordable treat, health concerns remain at the top of the agenda for many. Pressure from the health lobby – in the form of governments, regulatory authorities, pressure groups and the media – remains as strong as ever, with bakery goods such as cakes and biscuits under the microscope in terms of their nutritional qualities. Even bakery snacks carrying stronger links with health – such as cereal and breakfast bars – have not been absolved from criticism. 

In response, many of the bakery products positioned as snacks have undergone changes to improve their health credentials. The removal of excessive sugar and saturated fats has become almost second nature, as well as artificial additives to satisfy clean-label requirements. Some categories have gone further – many bakery snacks are now specifically positioned as people following vegan or gluten-free diets, while the incorporation of added protein is a leading trend within the cereal bars market.


Biscuits and cookies are eaten widely across the world as snacks, enjoying a following with consumers of all age groups. In the UK, for example, a 2020 study from Soreen found that biscuits were mentioned as the favorite snack amongst children, ahead of potato crisps and chocolate bars. The sector also appears to have been one of the main beneficiaries during the pandemic – the year 2020 saw more consumers snacking on biscuits for reasons such as avoiding boredom or seeking a permissible treat during stressful times. The US cookies market grew by 6.5% to $9.6bn, according to data from IRI. Much of this was attributed to increased snacking amongst the US population resulting from Covid-19.

However, one of the ongoing challenges facing manufacturers of biscuits and cookies is the widespread perception that they do not conform to health and nutrition guidelines, being high in sugar, saturated fats and calories. Research undertaken in some of the western markets indicates that consumers are broadly positive towards healthier products, with more people now seeking to lower their sugar intake. 

To date, reduction of sugar and calorie levels via reformulation efforts has been the favored method used by biscuit and cookie manufacturers to improve the health profile of their products. In February 2020, pladis revealed it had reduced sugar levels in nine of its leading McVitie’s biscuit brands by up to 10%, thereby removing an estimated 785 tons of sugar from UK diets. These brands included Original Digestives (which now contain 2.2g of sugar per biscuit) and Rich Tea (which contain 1.5g of sugar per biscuit), as well as Hobnobs and Chocolate Digestives. Meanwhile, gluten-free Hobnobs have also appeared under the McVitie’s brand.

During September 2021, Mondelez International launched Oreo Zero (i.e. sugar-free) cookies in the Chinese market, to tap into the growing local demand for healthier varieties of traditional snacks. The new cookies, which contain maltitol as a sugar replacement, appear in Classic and Rose flavors, the latter of which appear as Oreo Thins, which are 40% thinner than standard cookies. Returning to the UK market, Burtons Biscuits launched a sugar-free version of its Maryland Cookies brand early in 2019, as part of a wider move to reduce sugar and calorie levels across its portfolio by 20%. Sugar levels have also been reduced in some of the most popular chocolate biscuit brands – Nestle UK & Ireland reformulated its KitKat brand in 2017, with the result that its bars now contain less sugar and more milk and cocoa. 

You can read the rest of this article in the November / December Issue of European Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here

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