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Constant Cravings: How Our "Healthy" Snack Habits Could Be Hurting Us

By: Richard Godwin May 26, 2022

Snickers, the world’s best-selling chocolate bar, was invented by Franklin Mars’s Mar-O-Bar Company in 1930. A couple of years later, the Mars bar emerged from a factory in Slough; Maltesers followed in 1936; then came KitKat and Smarties in 1937. The sweet-toothed author Roald Dahl called this period the “seven glorious years”. “Don’t bother with the kings and queens of England,” he advised his readers. “All of you should learn these dates instead.”

If you prefer savoury snacks – according to government statistics, our consumption of these has risen from an average of 29g per week in 1977 to 89g in 2015 – you might want to commit the seven glorious years of crisps to memory, too. Quavers arrived in 1968, Wotsits in 1970, Hula Hoops in 1973, Skips in 1974 and Frazzles in 1975. And you’ll find such clusters of innovation throughout the history of snacking. Sometimes, there’s an arms race dynamic between rivals – Kellogg’s and Quaker had come up with their basic breakfast cereals by the second decade of the 20th century. At other times, it more closely resembles a music scene: Golden Wonder, KP, Smith’s and Walkers were like rival glam rockers, bashing out prawn cocktail-flavoured 1970s hits, before Golden Wonder went punk with the Pot Noodle in 1977.

But never mind the Spangles: the golden age of snack innovation is arguably right now. Protein balls and breakfast bars; beetroot crisps and quinoa puffs; juice shots and almond butter squeeze packs – before the 21st century, none of these was so abundantly available, if they were available at all. The macro-trend is “healthy” snacking. Bounce, Kind and Natural Balance (which makes Nakd and Trek) kicked things off in 2004, part of a Millennial wave of “natural” snacks that is still gaining momentum. Even within existing categories, there’s evidently room for innovation. Popchips were dreamed up in 2007 after LA entrepreneur Keith Belling had an epiphany in a rice cake facility. “It made me realise you could pop a potato,” he told the Financial Times. He advised would-be snack entrepreneurs to offer lots of free samples and not to compromise on taste. “If it doesn’t taste good, it isn’t a snack and it’s just not going to sell,” he said.

Hunger Games

There’s a reason why we can put a date on the Pickled Onion Monster Munch or the Bounce Almond Protein Energy Ball, but it’s infinitely harder to trace the invention of the Lancashire hotpot. The former were created by companies. And given that pretty much every snack food of note was conceived in the past century, you might wonder what we snacked on before. Look into it and you’ll run up against a startling answer: we didn’t, really. It seems that the greatest invention of all was snacking itself. But there’s plenty of evidence that it wasn’t one of our brightest ideas.


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