Though doctors strongly advise against it, Americans like to snack at night.
According to market research company IRI Worldwide, 44 percent of snack consumption occurs at night, representing over $1 billion spent weekly on nighttime snacks, or a little over $50 billion a year.
And as a rule, nighttime snacks are not known for their nutrition. While there are surely people in the world who indulge in carrot sticks and kale while they unwind with Netflix, for the average snacker, cookies, cakes, chips and ice cream are the preferred evening munchies.
It was a problem that NightFood Founder Sean Folkson ran into a little under a decade ago, after successfully adopting a healthier diet. He was mostly satisfied with his new nutrition program, except for the fact that the change in diet had upset his stomach, which was negatively affecting his sleep. He needed a better late evening snack, and assumed there would be some sort of nutrition bar designed to be “sleep-friendly.”
As it turns out, no such product actually existed at the time. “It was at that time that I really got the idea,” Folkson recalls.
In 2010, NightFood launched its offering of nutrition bars to meet that exact need: a low-sugar, high-fiber evening snack. Folkson said the firm is offering consumers a better, healthier way to do something that they are already doing. Although he concedes that it might be a better overall choice to give up night snacking entirely, NightFood is certainly not trying to get anyone to completely kick the habit.
“If you don't have a problem with unhealthy night snacking, maybe you don't snack at night at all, or maybe you grab a handful of carrot sticks – that's great, keep it up. No need to change. But if you're one of the majority of adults with this issue, making an improvement in your night snacking by moving closer to a healthier nutrition profile can be a huge step in the right direction," he noted.
That healthier profile includes snacks that are formulated to have some combination of less sugar, more fiber, moderate protein, lower glycemic index, lower B-Vitamin content, more calcium, more magnesium and less sodium. It also includes Chocamine, a cocoa-based ingredient that tastes like chocolate but lacks that big caffeine kick.
The brand does not add any specific sleep aid to its products – it doesn’t use additives like melatonin or CBD, which would actively make consumers drowsy. But that is not the type of product they want to offer to consumers, Folkson noted. NightFood is easy to digest and unlikely to fire up the nervous system, but it isn’t about putting customers to sleep so much as clearing the digestive hurdles that often prevent it.
And after almost a decade selling nutritional bars, NightFood is making is first major product expansion, with the 2019 launch of what the brand is calling “sleep-friendly” ice cream. For $4.99 a pint, NightFood will offer chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip cookie dough and decaf coffee, among other flavors – all formulated with a mix of fiber, protein and (less) sugar, for an ice cream product that reportedly aids sleep and reduces acid reflux.
“It’s not about, like, dropping an Ambien or some sleep aid into the product; it’s about making ice cream in a way that’s less disruptive,” Folkson said.
But are consumers willing to pay a little extra for something that’s less disruptive? It depends – at a little under $5 a pint, NightFood ice cream will be a bit cheaper than the competing premium brand, Ben and Jerry’s. And today's NightFood customers, Folkson noted, are thinking about more than price when they buy, something the brand expects to carry forward.
"This isn’t about dollars and cents. It’s about moving away from snacks that are wrecking your diet, and your sleep," he pointed out. "What’s it worth to get rid of that guilt you feel when you get to the bottom of that bowl of ice cream at night? What would it be worth if tomorrow you felt like you got an extra five or 10 minutes of sleep because of what you did or didn’t eat before bed?”