Consumers are increasingly looking for healthy snacks, but opportunities for vegetables mapped by research a decade ago are still proving elusive due to challenging logistics. 

It the ongoing drive to increase vegetable consumption, it’s important to explore opportunities in every meal, and even between meals. 

Snacking is a huge but sometimes overlooked consumption occasion, and it offers significant potential for vegetables. It also has significant challenges, however. Nine years ago, fresh food market analyst Freshlogic undertook a levy-funded project that dug into just how big the vegetable snacking potential was, where the opportunities lay and what the big hurdles were. 

Since that project vegetables have made some headway into snacking, but Freshlogic’s CEO Martin Kneebone says that while the template for success now exists, it’s not easy to replicate. 

“All consumers are saying ‘we would like more nutritious snacks’,” says Martin. “Eventually, that ends up as a trade-off with convenience and where they can source the product when they’re hungry.” 

“The challenges of a perishable product trying to manage that through the supply chain make it hard for vegetables, particularly if that product involves a level of preparation.” 

The size of the snacking market is significant. Freshlogic’s levy-funded project, Market research around the opportunity to create more vegetable snacking options to quantify market size (VG14024), found that snacking represented 11 percent of the total food and grocery market by value, with an annual retail value of $9.33 billion in 2015. ‘Healthy’ snacks represented about 40 percent of that, with fruit accounting for half of that. 

A consistent theme among the successful snacking products the project identified was their convenience and portability. 

“The convenience of delivery and the product form were overarching considerations,” says Martin. “That invited a look at vending machines to get a fresh, nutritious snacking offer closer to where the need might be, but people had a lot more propensity to buy a packet of chips rather than a sliced carrot in that sort of environment.” 

“We found that the sweet spot was a vegetable product that stayed whole and was able to travel through the supply chain in that form. At that stage it was pretty clear that a small snacking tomato was successful in that sense.” 

Snacking success hard to come by 

Establishing successful new vegetable snacking products hasn’t been easy. Martin says since the original research, only a few have been really successful. 

Snacking tomatoes were a fast-growing product when the research was done nine years ago, and in the years since the trail they blazed has been followed by other products, most notably baby cucumbers. 

“We’ve seen the successes replicated with more products,” says Martin. “Tomatoes were right up there, and I think cucumbers have levered off the learnings and gotten there a lot quicker, and that’s been a successful product too. Products in that whole form that are able to travel are going well.” 

Snacking vegetables need to have a level of robustness, however, and fresh cut or trimmed products have struggled with the logistics. Breeders working on new vegetable varieties for the snacking category are focusing on whole vegetables with robustness, shelf life and maintenance of eating quality, according to Martin. 

Even after getting the vegetable itself right, however, competition for retail shelf space is intense for new products. 

“You’ve got a perishable product, so the disciplines around performance are absolute,” says Martin. “If you take your product to a retailer and convince them there’s an opportunity, you’ve probably got about a month, and if it doesn’t perform in that month, the retailer won’t continue with the product.” 

“There isn’t an infinite amount of shelf space out there, and you’ve got higher demand for fresh chilled areas. Anything that might be cut or trimmed that need refrigeration is now under more pressure, particularly with the expansion of the likes of berries.” 

To see what might be hitting the Australian market in coming years, Martin points overseas. Most of the products that have done well in Australia have already been successful in markets like the UK, which has some of the most developed fresh convenience and fresh cut categories in the world. 

Packaging an uncomfortable reality 

The shelf life and logistics requirements of fresh snack foods, however, makes packaging very hard to avoid for vegetables. Ongoing sustainability initiatives by suppliers and retailers are discouraging the use of packaging, and consumers vocally express a dislike of packaging, but their shopping behaviour often doesn’t align with their stated ideals, according to Martin. 

“Nobody wants packaging until you look at what’s in their shopping bag and find that there’s packing in there,” he says. “It’s convenient, and it’s also a very efficient way of managing that product through the supply chain.” 

“With the various barcoding options and the increase in the amount of self-service checkouts, it gives consumers the comfort to be able to shop quickly. If it’s a barcode it’s easy, but if it’s a lookup item it’s more complicated. 

Post-COVID snacking recovery 

The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the sales of snack foods as millions of consumers were stuck at home during lockdowns or shifted to working from home, cutting into the demand for mobile snacks. Consumers were making fewer, bigger shopping trips, reducing opportunities for impulse sales of snack food. 

“There was more food purchased for preparation at home, and lunches that were at work were now at home,” says Martin. 

As soon as the lockdowns opened up, however, Martin says demand for snack foods bounced back, and have now returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

‘Snack-sized’ or ‘down-sized’? 

When the project explored how snacking products were consumed, it found snacking vegetables were not only eaten as a snack, but also as a smaller portion replacement for traditional vegetables.

“While we talk about a snacking category, not all of those products are consumed as snacks,” says Martin. “Many of them are actually really convenient forms for small or busy households. Meeting that demand has put some volume around what we loosely call a snacking product form.” 

More than a quarter (26 percent) of Australian households are only one person, according to the 2021 Census, and Martin says they don’t want to buy big quantities of fresh produce that they’d end up wasting. 

“They welcome the smaller packs of tomatoes and cucumbers because they don’t want to put half a tomato back in the fridge.” 

Fresh-friendly kids 

Martin also sees a brighter future for healthy, fresh snacks as children coming through a much more health-conscious school system become buyers themselves. Children are internalising schools’ requirements for lunches brought from home to contain healthy food without disposable packaging. 

“Schools and the influence they have will strengthen the fresh component and put pressure on the packaging component,” he explains. “The younger ones at school now are going to evolve into a different consumer who will probably warm to these sorts of things.” 



Contact Martin Kneebone on 03 9818 1588 or 

Listen to the Vegalogue podcast with Martin, or head to Hort Innovation 

Market research around the opportunity to create more vegetable snacking options to quantify market size is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund. Project number: VG14024 

This article first appeared in Australian Grower magazine, Autumn 2024