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7-Eleven To Include Healthy Snacks

2:25 PM, Sep 13, 2013   |    comments
7-Eleven is making an effort to offer more healthy products at its stores.(Photo: 7-Eleven for USA TODAY)
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Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

This certainly sounds like a Whole Foods shopping list: organic trail mix, veggie chips and dry-roasted edamame.

Guess again. It's the new snack section at 7-Eleven.

The nation's convenience chain giant, taking a cue from a generation that demands better-for-you snacks and which snacks more often, is rolling out a revamped snack section at its 8,000 U.S. stores that includes everything from Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps to Skinny Pop All-Natural Popcorn.

"Better-for-you is one of the fastest-growing segments of the snacking category," says Rebecca Frechette, a vice president of merchandising at 7-Eleven.

While snacking is an $87 billion business in the U.S., estimates the research firm NPD Group, it's the "healthy" snacking category that's on a real tear. Some 38% of consumers say they ate "more healthy" snacks last year vs. the year before, reports the research firm Mintel.

But will Millennials buy into the notion that they should purchase their healthier snacks at the same place they stop to grab a cold beer, a brain-freezing Slurpee or a midnight bag of Doritos?

One marketing guru has his doubts. "If you're thinking about a better-for you snack, it's not likely that 7-Eleven is at the top of the list," understates Robert Passikoff, founder of Brand Keys, a marketing research firm. "I'd say 7-Eleven's trust in this area is much lower than, say, Whole Foods."

Officials at Whole Foods declined to comment.

But executives at 7-Eleven are so convinced the new snacks will take off that the chain has asked stores nationwide to place them in special displays at the end of the first aisle customers pass when they walk into the store. Price: $1.49 to $4.99.

"I do not recall 7-Eleven ever putting such a focus on snacking," says spokeswoman Margaret Chabris.

After all, one in five customers who walk into a 7-Eleven now walk out with a snack, she says. And snacking continues to lose its negative connotation. Not too many years ago, most consumers associated it with mindless eating. Increasingly, consumers view better-for-you snacking as a healthy way to supplement meals, reports NPD.

Yes, 7-Eleven wants to attract more Millennials and more customers willing to "trade up," says Frechette. Healthier food offerings - including better snacks - are one way to do that, she says.

For 7-Eleven, which has been much more closely associated with coffee and doughnuts than with healthy eating, the recent evolution toward better-for-you and indulgent snacks has been striking. It was less than a handful of years ago that 7-Eleven began an earnest national rollout of fresh fruit and fresh cut fruit.

And now, healthier snacks. But Passikoff, the brand guru, isn't impressed. It's probably just wasted shelf space at 7-Eleven, he says, that could be better used "selling week-old franks."

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