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Monday, 26 February, 2001, 13:05 GMT
Three square snacks a day

Whatever happened to our three square meals a day? Snacking is now the order of the day, with more Britons grabbing food on the hoof.

A dining room? Metal cutlery? Forget it. Time-pressed Britons often find themselves staring at their desk or car dashboard while eating - some may not even make it to the checkout till before tucking in.

Jeremy Spake and a burger
"Look! No hands"
Snacks and convenience foods have become an increasingly large part of our daily diet, with the market worth 1.6bn a year in the UK alone.

Corporate giants Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble - which owns the Pringles crisp brand - have just joined forces, promising to beef up their range of such comestibles, so-called "no-think foods"

Coca-Cola's rival, Pepsi Co, has already forged an alliance with the Frito-Lay snack business. Such links-ups make good sense.

Taking a bite

A drinks company, with its distribution and vending machine networks, may share many synergies with a snack maker. But this in only part of the picture. Novelty and innovation are watchwords for winning market share in the modern snack industry.

Coke and P&G have vowed their "new company will focus all of its resources on becoming the global leader in innovative snacks".

[No-think food] requires no utensils and does not drip, crumble or demand inordinate attention

Mona Doyle
Innovation? Who could hope to improve on prawn cocktail crisps? But it is new packaging, rather than improved flavours, which drives much of the change in the snack sector.

In the US, the demand for "no-think" foods is particularly developed, according to market researchers. "The flash point for the industry is 'How can I make it easy for people to eat my food?'" said vice president of the NPD Group, Harry Balzer.

The golden fleece of the snack world is "one-handed food", a product you can eat while still working, driving or holding the baby.

Non-drip lunch

The search for this item has been a long one. Back in 1987, Mona Doyle of the Consumer Network said the ideal no-think food "requires no utensils and does not drip, crumble or demand inordinate attention on its path from hand to mouth".

But nearly 15 years later, we're still waiting for that perfect "deskfast" or "commuter food" item. In 1999, the conewich - a conical 'non-drip' sandwich - was launched in the UK. Eaten one lately?

TV chef Gary Rhodes
"Look! One hand"
So what are we eating with two hands and a bit more attention than we would like?

Breakfast cereals have been the first casualty of our growing snacking habit. Putting cereal in a bowl and adding milk is too time-consuming for some of us, it seems.

Makers responded to the drop in sales with a range of new products, from pre-packed single servings of cereal to muesli bars.

A quarter of Kellogg's revenue now comes from its convenience food division.

Other food manufacturers have likewise taken their top brands and crammed them into "snack packs", "pocket packs" or reduced them to "bitesize" portions.

You go, 'gurt

General Mills has taken yoghurt and placed it in a tube. And with Go-Gurt there's not even a spoon to worry about.

Dr Nefertiti Sourial, director of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, says we may end up paying for our willingness to take lunch on the run.

"Eating while driving or working is not a good idea. You need to be relaxed to eat, it helps digestion. Otherwise you can easily suffer a case of indigestion."

Eating while driving or working is not a good idea

Dr Nefertiti Sourial
So much for one-handed foods. But what about snacking itself. Is it a bad idea full-stop? Dr Sourial says not.

"You can use snacks nutritionally. Fruit for instance. Apples and pears are good snacks. Vegetables, seeds, nuts. These foods aren't full of the empty calories some snacks contain."

Sugary snacks, such as the pastry wolfed down with coffee as you run for the train, are of little worth in the battle against hunger, says Dr Sourial.

"Such foods quickly boost your blood sugar. To compensate, the pancreas produces insulin, but it often over shoots. Your blood sugar levels dips and you feel the need to snack again."

Snack attack

Good news for your local shop or company tea bar, but messing with your blood sugar level could put you at greater risk of developing diabetes.

"If you have a muffin, make it a wholemeal muffin. It takes longer to digest, so the rise in your blood sugar is correspondingly more gentle."

Russian fruit market in winter
Fruit: for the health-conscious snacker
Sparing the time to cook or prepare your own foods, may be the best option.

"You know exactly what goes in and fresh foods have more vitamins than stored ones. Off-the-shelf foods also have preservatives, flavourings and colourings which are totally unnecessary."

So snack in haste and repent at leisure, it seems. But who can resist the novelty of such products as cheese-slice-type portions of peanut butter - just peel and apply to sliced bread?

It does exist.

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21 Feb 01 | Business
Coca-Cola and P&G in new venture
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