Ever thought about stocking dehydrated kale? Or almond protein balls? Healthy snacking has hit a recent innovation surge, ensuring a wide new range of convenience products. And while not every bakery or café outlet will suit the more adventurous new launches, there is plenty in the category to boost your profit margins.

"People are more aware of health," says Gareth Fryer, a planner at The Marketing Store, whose clients include Britvic and McDonald’s. "So it’s about making sure you carry a range of stock to cater for all where possible. Convenience food does well in recessionary times for obvious reasons, but there’s no point broadening the portfolio for the sake of it it has to be grounded in a solid sales objective."

So what kind of products will help you maximise your returns in healthy food-to-go? Before you look to stock, it’s important to assess your brand and what your customers expect from your outlet. But within the sector there are emergent trends this year and, if you pick the right product from the bunch, then good sales will hopefully follow.

Crunch time

Most bakery outlets stock crisps, but healthier options of bagged salted snacks have broadened recently to meet demand. A recent Mintel report (2011) confirms that food-to-go sales of bagged salted snacks rose by a healthy 8.5% in bakery and café outlets, and the research giant predicts big things for new products. Healthy savoury snack products also fit an emergent customer profile, purchasing bite-sized portions rather than full meals. As Macphie marketing manager Jania Boyd advises: "It is important for bakeries and cafés to recognise and tap into the key trend of ’grazing’, or all-day dining. With many consumers cutting down on their lunchtime spend, they are looking for flexible menu options with smaller items available all day."

When it comes to actual products, the rising star for this year looks to be flavoured popcorn, with several new brands emerging. Gourmet brand Propercorn has launched in high-end café outlets, such as Benugo, Leon and Caffè Fratelli, with flavours including Worcester sauce & sun-dried tomato. Other new brands to look for are child-friendly packaged brand Peter Popples, and premium Joe&Sephs popcorn. The latter high-end brand sells at £2.95 for 90g and includes flavours such as goat’s cheese and black pepper and caramel macchiato and whisky.

The other big mover in this category is vegetable crisps, which are now regarded as a mainstream product thanks to supermarket stocking and chains like Pret A Manger. In fact, the latter’s own-brand vegetable crisps proved so successful, they recently launched a second ’beetroot and carrot’ variation.

For bakeries looking to stock a Pret equivalent, potato crisp brand Tyrrells has recently launched beetroot, carrot and parsnip vegetable crisps in 40g snack-sized bags for an RRP of 99p, so bakeries have the convenience of stocking an established brand. Meanwhile, smaller brand Glennans sells a 20g portion of its sweet potato, beetroot and parsnip crisps for an RRP of 49p.

For truly adventurous outlets, or those with a very health-focused customer base, there is also a buzz around kale chips, which are on-trend in New York. Only one brand currently sells to UK outlets, and products come with a hefty price tag, but Inspiral sells kale ’crisps’ in Wasabi and Wheatgrass, Baobab and Cider Vinegar and Cheesie Purple Corn versions for around £3.50 for 40g. The products might be an innovation too far for the average outlet, but kale chip snacks now sell in London delis and health food and café chain Planet Organic.

Nuts and seeds

So how are nuts and seeds selling as a food-to-go item? These foods have gained an increasing amount of press coverage, but market reports suggest that customers are looking for a convenient and appetising format. The obvious answer to this is the cereal bar, which was a boom product two years ago. However, Mintel’s latest reports suggest that, unlike salted bagged snacks which have continued to grow as a sector, cereal bars took a slight hit during the recession. Growth still prevailed, but these products proved a viable cut-back for consumers looking for perceptions of value, and this is confirmed by bakery and café outlets. "Customers are more interested in our freshly made tarts and cakes than cereal bars," explains a spokesperson for Caffè Fratelli. "In the food-to-go sector we’d rather stock products that reflect the innovation and gourmet appeal of our brand."

While old-fashioned cereal bars might be a less profitable choice, however, ’clean label’ cereal bars appeal to the growing trend for products that have a homemade feel to them. One such contender is NutriChef’s newly launched Flapjack Bars, which contain no trans fats, salt, wheat or dairy and no artificial colours or flavours. The bars’ recommended retail price is £1.49, which can achieve up to a 40% profit margin for stockists and, with a dedicated PR campaign this year, brand awareness is likely to be high.

Other novel formats for nuts and seeds include the increasingly popular ’Bounce Balls’ and similarly formatted products. These golf ball-sized sweet nut snacks have proved to sell well as a counter-top impulse buy, offering a palatable format for customers to eat nuts and seeds and a good price point of around £1.50.

In their raw form, snack-sized portions of nuts and seeds are few and far between, but The Food Doctor brand has recently launched a range of 70g bags to follow on from its larger 150g tubs of nuts and seeds. Products include roasted soya nuts, savoury seed blends, and wholesome spicy fruit and nut mix and are attractively packaged.

"We’re looking to move more into food-to-go, because this has become increasingly popular," explains Paul Wyn of The Food Doctor. "We launched the packs because there was a market for pre-portioned nuts and seeds in healthy flavours, and sales in café-style outlets have borne that out."

If you’re looking to refresh your healthy snack range for 2012, either via a cautious expansion into healthier food-to-go, or by embracing the latest innovations, there is plenty to tempt both you, and your customers.