Every day in America seems like National Junk Food Day, but the official date is July 21, so let's celebrate with some cellulite. Despite all the loyal locavores and fans of farm-to-table who would no doubt reach for acai berries over Alpha-Bits, there's still a heap of processed snackage out there. Here's a look at some of 2016's trends, both the tasty and the terrible.
"The hot flavor right now is s'mores," says Marvin Nitta, editor of The Impulsive Buy, a daily blog reviewing new junk-food and fast-food products. The campfire dessert staple of chocolate, marshmallow and graham is now available in Chips Ahoy and Pepperidge Farm cookies, M&M's, Klondike ice cream bars and Fiber One bars. "There's even s'mores-flavored gum," Nitta notes.
What you gonna eat? Ghostbusters!
Kelley Storm, who goes by Junk Food Betty on her reviews site (and manages some of the best Twitter lists relating to junk food), agrees that s'mores are the year's hot flavor. Her other nominee for junk-food trend of the moment is less a taste than a tie-in. "Ghostbusters-themed food (is hot), like the triumphant return of Hi-C Ecto Cooler and the introduction of TWO new Ghostbusters Twinkies," she said. (The two types are Key Lime Slime and White Fudge Marshmallow, in case you ain't afraid of no calories.)
Nitta also sees a trend in products introducing skinnier versions, which are easier to munch down like potato chips, he notes (so don't assume "thinner" means you're eating any fewer). Nabisco is leading the charge here, he says, with Oreo Thins, Limited Edition Thinner Wheat Thins, and Chips Ahoy Thins, which are coming soon.
Storm also notes that companies now want to get eaters involved in developing new tastes. "One trend I see is the idea of voting for a flavor," she notes. "Lay's has been doing it for years now with their Do Us a Flavor contests, and M&Ms recently ran a contest involving new peanut M&M flavors."
Nitta's favorite trend is that of old products being reintroduced, and as the co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?", I'm right there with him.
"The product that started this trend was probably Coke's Mountain Dew competitor, Surge, which was discontinued over a decade ago, but re-released in 2014," Nitta says. "Other notable returning products include Crispy M&M's, Hydrox, Original New York Seltzer and French Toast Crunch Cereal. This year, Mountain Dew Pitch Black, Hi-C Ecto Cooler, and, of course, Crystal Pepsi have made their way back to consumers."
C'mon, chorizo! About time, aioli!
Quang Hong runs fast-food site Brand Eating, and has seen colorful trends like rainbow grilled cheese and red or black sandwich buns grab their moment in the snack spotlight. "I'm not a big fan of more food coloring so rainbow-colored cheese and red buns don't appeal to me at all," Hong says. "I much prefer new ingredients like chorizo, which was recently added to a local offer at McDonald's here in LA, but is also available at Chipotle and Del Taco. I'd really like to see more garlic aioli on the fast-food chain level though."
Red velvet and birthday cake: Still chugging along
Red-velvet and birthday-cake everything may seem so last year, but those flavors aren't done yet. "As long as brands keep having birthdays, birthday cake-flavored products will still exist," Nitta said, pointing to 7-Eleven's recent birthday-cake-flavored Slurpee (for the drink's 50th birthday), Airheads' birthday cake candy (for its 30th) and Keebler's birthday cake Fudge Stripe cookies (just because).
And consumers are still seeing red. "Nabisco has already put out Red Velvet Oreos and, more recently, Red Velvet Chips Ahoy," Hong says. "Plus they're really easy to do. You just add red food coloring to a chocolate dessert and maybe a cream-cheese component."
Pumpkin spice lives!
"One trend that I'd love to see die out is the pumpkin-spice deluge that hits us every fall," Storm says. "But I don't really see it going away."
Weirdest part of waking up
"Oreos and Pop-Tarts seem to be in a contest to see who can come up with the weirdest flavor," Storm says. "Oreo is winning in the quantity category, but recent offerings by Pop-Tarts (namely, the soda-flavored and pink-lemonade ones) strike me as particularly ... daring. Not exactly the flavors you'd expect to see coming out of your toaster early in the morning."