Like most food categories in center store, salty and packaged snacks have seen a rise in the healthier, organic and natural subcategory of products — but unlike other categories, these better-for-you alternatives haven’t hurt sales of the traditional, more indulgent products.
“Salty snacks are a prime example of an indulgent category that’s seen growth amidst countless healthful consumer crazes,” noted Jordan Rost, VP of Consumer Insights, Nielsen.
Market research firm Packaged Facts forecasts the U.S. salty snacks market will exceed $29 billion in 2022 — up from $24 billion in 2017, an increase of more than 17%. According to research director David Sprinkle, how Americans eat has evolved to match the frequently hurried and hectic lifestyles of today’s consumers. The shift has been a boon to convenient food options, including salty snacks such as potato chips, popcorn and pretzels.
“In recent years, more consumers have moved away from the traditional three meals per day and shifted into a lifestyle involving increased snacking, or multiple smaller meals, throughout the day,” he said.
“More and more people are using snacking as a meal replacement than ever before,” agreed Dave Vehon, category manager at Bashas’ Family of Stores, which operates more than 100 stores across Arizona. “With increasingly busy lifestyles, people are snacking throughout the day, as opposed to stopping to eat a larger, more traditional meal.”
Year-over-year at Bashas’, salty snack sales are up 3.8%, meat snacks are up 3.7% and snack cakes are up 1%.
In addition to snacking as meal replacement, retailers are paying attention to what snacks their customers are buying. Danny Hamdan, owner and operator of Met Fresh, a new store in the Associated Supermarket Group located in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y., said, “I’ve seen the trends shift in the last eight years from mainstream traditional snacks to trending ‘good-for-you’ and ‘better-for-you’ snack selection from manufacturers and requests from consumers. I am carrying more healthy snacks and low-sodium chips in my store.”
That’s also the case at Tops Markets in upstate Williamsville, N.Y. “When we look at natural and organic, consumers are looking for products that they can feel good about when they are snacking, as they are making a conscious choice to move away from a more indulgent product,” said Tom Sulski, category business manager, natural/organic. “Products with attributes like gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO and organic are trending well. Salty snacks that are made with ingredients other than potato — i.e., beets, sweet potatoes, turnips — are becoming more popular. This is also trending toward the younger generations of Gen X and Millennials.”
But, added Jamie Szpylman, Tops category business manager, beer/wine/snacks, “We still have a core demographic that simply love to indulge in salty snacks so we can’t lose focus on that segment. The biggest is potato chips with a trend to multipacks. This is great for portion control and they’re not just used for the busy mom packing school lunches. For those choosing to indulge, this allows them at least some element of knowing the size portion they are consuming.”
Speaking of packaging, Met Fresh’s Hamdan said he has noticed an increase in smaller packages and single-serve items, especially in the deli.
“I have learned that people in Brooklyn typically like to shop for the day rather than for the week, so they tend to shop for what they need the following day,” he said. “This is nice because you develop a personal relationship with most of your consumers due to the fact that they come almost every day rather than every week. Once that relationship is made, then customers will tell you what they want, whether it may be a new item or an item the store doesn’t typically carry.”
At Bashas’, sales of single-serve salty snacks are up 2.5%, and the "tube-snack" packages of trail mix, nuts and candy are up 28%. “Many brands have downsized their packaging as they promote cleaner labels and snack options with less sodium, sugar and calories,” said Vehon.
As for merchandising, Tops’ Szpylman noted, “Certainly a large display grabs a shopper’s attention. When cross-merchandising natural/organic, it is effective to merchandise the natural snacks with traditional snacks/drinks/soda. It affords the ability to attract new consumers to natural snacks when they purchase the traditional products that were on their list. We also make good use of our space in our lobby/vestibule area as it is obviously a high-traffic area with great visibility. It is very effective for big promotions. We also see a lot of movement on our fast walls and endcap displays as well.
“We make a concerted effort to dedicate space to this part of our business. In fact, when you look at our competition you’d be hard-pressed to find another retailer who is as proactive as Tops is in merchandising their stores’ snack variety the way we do.”
“Snacks are most successfully merchandised together so it’s easy for the consumer to shop,” said Hamdan of Met Fresh. “In Brooklyn we don’t have the luxury to have a ‘snack aisle’ just for snacks due to our limited space. Snacks typically get grouped by their brand and the company that sells them. For example, Frito-Lay will have their own section, Utz will have their own section and all healthy snacks will have their own section and they will all be relatively close so the consumer can compare options. When you lay out a section, you want to put your higher-priced, slower-moving items at eye level and your fast-moving, lower-priced items below eye level.”
In 2018 Tops saw new trends and innovations take hold in the snack category. “Consumers were more receptive to trying spicier options,” said Szpylman. “Their palates were tempted with hotter varieties from Cheetos, Doritos and the like, which were well received.” Additionally, in the natural and organics snack category, Full Circle, Dirty Chips, Late July, Skinny Pop, Angies, Barbara's, Popchips and Popcorners all performed strongly; on the traditional snack side, Frito-Lay is still the leader but Tops experienced solid growth with Utz and the retailer’s own private label Snacks brand.
At Bashas’, “salty snacks and meat snacks, like jerky and meat sticks, are leading the way,” said Vehon. “Frito-Lay has come to the table with cleaner labels, and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky is offering new items geared toward the trend of on-the-go snacking. Hershey’s and Mars have introduced candy and salty-snack mixes in packaging that is selling very well.
“The merchandising of our front-end check-stands has changed,” he added, “as we have reduced the amount of gum, candy and mints we offer to make more room for heathier choices, such as protein bars, trail mixes, and meat snacks.”
Selling season for snacks
While salty-snack sales are strong year-round, there are definitely occasions during the year when retailers experience spikes in the category.
“When party planning and around the holidays, consumers are willing to try something new,” according to Szpylman and Sulski of Tops Markets. “This is also the time when we find they are willing to pick up a natural/organic option to offer their guests different options. While Super Bowl is strong for salty snacks, the summer holidays (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day) are the top weeks for the category.”
Met Fresh’s Hamdan added, “Beyond football and Super Bowl, some other prime selling times for packaged snacks are usually during holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Christmas, New Year’s, Cinco de Mayo and Halloween. Aside from these holidays, people tend to eat more snacks in the winter and during the summer.”
“In our market in Arizona,” said Bahas’ Vehon, “there are many snacking occasions throughout the year. After Super Bowl, we have NACSAR events, March Madness, spring training, as well as the MLB baseball season. We see spikes in snacking during summer holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, which are also popular vacation times of year here. The fall brings football again, along with Halloween parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday entertaining.”
Peas and Q’s
World Peas Brand’s Peatos cheesy crunchy snacks made from pulses including yellow pea and lentil are taking the snack aisle to the next level. Peatos are available in four flavors — Classic Cheese, Fiery Hot, Chili Cheese and Masala — and have twice the protein and three times the fiber of traditional corn-based cheese snacks.
Kettle Brand continues its commitment to better-for-you snacking with the launch of Almond Oil Fiery Thai potato chips cooked in 100% almond oil. The Non-GMO Project verified and certified gluten-free chips feature a fusion of sweet lemon grass, ginger and classic Thai heat to create an aromatic and crunch indulgence snack treat.