Stress has different ways of manifesting itself. Faced with it, some people sleep, some indulge in retail therapy, yet others pump iron. A sizeable number of people, however, resort to binge eating. In these current stress-filled times, in fact, people have been snacking more than ever before. But snacking today is very different from what it was some years back. Today, there is a visible shift in the narrative, with the focus being on healthy snacks that don’t compromise on taste. Crackers laced with sodium and cookies dipped in sugar have made way for grab-and-go yoghurts, fruit and nut bars, vegetable and bean snacks, quinoa soup and burgers, and amaranth cupcakes.
“For long, snacking had been associated with unhealthy food—deep-fried and loaded with salt and empty calories. But the paradigm has shifted towards healthy versions now. Snacks like roasted black chana with puffed rice, mixed nuts and seeds (trail mix), wheat/quinoa/bajra puffs, roasted makhanas (fox nuts), whole fruit, cucumber/celery/carrot sticks with hummus dip, etc, boost health and immunity,” says Delhi-based nutritionist Nmami Agarwal, who is the CEO and founder of Nmami Life, a health and wellness brand, which is associated with celebrities like politician and former cricketer Gautam Gambhir, Australian cricket commentator Michael Clarke (for sports nutrition) and beauty queen Manushi Chhillar.
The 2020 report of Euromonitor International, a global strategic market research firm, also suggests that ‘snackification’ as a trend is catching up in India. Not surprisingly, brands and companies are cashing in on the trend. Tea café chain Chaayos, for one, serves handcrafted and healthy snack options. “Lip-smacking, health-first options like egg white chaat and kala chana chaat are high in natural protein and fibre content… it’s a popular snack category for breakfast and a favourite among millennials,” says Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos, which serves home-style chai in a funky café setting.
Many local and branded makers have introduced products like roasted grains as nutritional options in the ‘easy snack’ category. Ready-to-eat snack brand Sattviko, which is based in Delhi, introduced a gur chana snack, which is packed with protein and carbohydrates, and is good for the respiratory system. It also flushes out pollutants from the lungs.
A variety of beverage brands offer healthy alternatives like camel milk as a substitute to cow milk. “Camel milk has medicinal and health benefits… It helps the autistic and those suffering from diabetes and lactose intolerance. Camel milk has three times more vitamin C and 10 times more iron than cow milk,” says Delhi-based Shrey Kumar, co-founder, Aadvik Foods, which sells camel milk, as well as sugar-free chocolates of the variant.
The Access to Nutrition India Spotlight Index is developed by Access to Nutrition Initiative (which focuses on developing tools and initiatives that track and drive the contribution made by the food and beverage sector to address the world’s global nutrition challenges) to drive positive change in the food and beverage industry in India on diet, nutrition and health issues. The 2020 index reports that healthy products form a small but significant part of the fast-growing Indian food industry. “ATNI (Access to Nutrition Initiative) sees food and beverage companies in India showing their commitment to provide healthy food and engaging in a dialogue on how to support India’s Eat Right Movement. India has enormous opportunity for companies to make nutrition a core part of their business plans and to adopt comprehensive, public and commercial strategies to address issues related to the double burden of malnutrition in India,” says Inge Kauer, executive director, ATNI.
A perfect balance of carbohydrates and protein, khichdi has been savoured by Indians for generations, making it a healthy meal option packed with flavours. Ola Foods, the ride hailing app’s food business, is busting the myth that the healthy meal doesn’t deliver on flavour with its Khichdi Experiment. Currently operational in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai, Khichdi Experiment offers 20 variants of khichdi such as palak paneer khichdi, Mumbaiya pav bhaji khichdi, Kerala mathan khichdi, etc. There are also non-vegetarian variants such as murgh dalcha khichdi and mutton khichdi. Some recently launched variants include Masala Veggie 7 grain, Spinach Multigrain and Masala Quinoa Khichdi. “Khichdi has been deprived of the status of a super food even though it has high nourishment value and is a wholesome meal. A traditional and seemingly simple dish, khichdi has been savoured by Indians for generations… it is equipped with nutritional benefits, making it a suitable alternative to junk food. It helps in digestion and is a great source of the 10 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. The addition of vegetables and ghee makes it rich in fibre and antioxidants and, at the same time, gives the much-needed dosage of healthy fats,” says Bengaluru-based Anshul Khandelwal, head of marketing and revenue, Ola Foods.
Five-star hotel brands have also revitalised healthy meals by introducing alternate foods. Hotel Vivanta Surajkund in NCR is experimenting with grains like amaranth, millets, oats, ragi, quinoa, barley, red rice and bulgur to toss up a new-age snack meal category for millennials. Dishes like oatmeal salad and quinoa burger, for instance, are made with centuries-old healthy ingredients, but offer contemporary flavour, as per junior sous chef executive Geetika Gupta. “The ingredients provide nutrition, as well as suit the healthy preference of millennials. A tasty yet healthy option for those who don’t want to compromise on health,” she says.
Getting children to eat healthy may sometimes be an uphill battle, but some brands offer children-focused food and nutrition, which has natural ingredients, zero preservatives and good flavour. Bengaluru-based children-focused food and nutrition startup Lil’Goodness, founded by IIM-Calcutta alumnus Harshavardhan and nutrition expert Pariksha Rao, aims to build immunity in children using vegetables, cereals and milk in crackers, porridges and shelf-stable yoghurts. “Our dry snacks are 100% baked and not fried, and we use fruits and vegetables in a format that ensures that the little ones get nutrition without compromising on taste. Our guava fruit yoghurt smoothie, for instance, provides 100% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C for a child, acting as an immunity booster… plus, it can be stored at room temperature for six months. Jaggery oats banana porridge, too, is rich in protein, calcium and healthy carbs. A creamy smooth texture makes it easy to consume, yet keeps the stomach full for a longer duration. The multigrain carrot cracker is rich in beta carotene (vitamin A)… it is baked not fried, a healthy alternative to potato crisps and nachos,” shares Harshavardhan, the co-founder and CEO.
Healthy food brands are shaking up the grocery scene with not just crackers and porridge, but even popcorn now. Hyderabad-based Timla Foods’ ready-to-eat flavoured popcorn brand PopiCorn offers low-calorie whole grain popcorn, which is rich in fibre. The popcorn comes in a variety of flavours such as tomato chilli, tangy jalapeno, piri piri masala, salted, creamy cheese and butter in a price range of `5-`49 depending on the size of the pack. “The new consumer demands options. Hence, better-for-you and packaged snacks are at an inflection point in India, as they provide the perfect intersection of taste, nutrition, convenience, quality, cost, availability and sourcing. We call them ‘hunk’, or healthy junk,” says Prashanth Gowriraju, ‘chief dad’ and CEO, Timla Foods.