Crisp sales have been surpassed by savoury snacks and there’s no shortage of NPD in this diverse and flavoursome market

It’s a mixed bag of fortunes for the crisps and snacks category. Britons are eating fewer crisps, according to Nielsen, which reports volume sales have dropped in the year to 24 April 2015. But it’s not crunch time for the category quite yet; there are some success stories. Sales of savoury snacks, including nachos, Mini Cheddars and Pringles, have increased 4.1% year on year, and have now overtaken sales growth of conventional crisps.

With consumers moving away from conventional crisps it has opened the doors for a wave of savoury snack innovation, says Rick Lawrence, Mondelez International biscuits, crisps and snacks category lead.

“The UK savoury snacks market is currently dominated by traditional fried potato crisps, and we believe there is significant room for snacks to be bigger within the category, like in North America where salty snacks are worth $28bn,” he says.

The company’s most recent launch is Ritz Crisp & Thin, which comes in sharing and single bags in four flavours: cream cheese & onion, sea salt & vinegar, sweet red chilli and sea salt & black pepper.

It’s not the only one moving in on this market. In June Walkers announced it was expanding further into savoury snacks by adding new Crispy Thins to its Sensations portfolio. The sharing bag range includes baked crispy crackers in Thai sweet chilli, Mexican fiery sweet chipotle and caramelised onion & balsamic vinegar flavours.

David Costello, head of customer category management at Burton’s Biscuit Company, agrees that the market is set to change over the next few years. “We expect there to be a much greater focus on added-value growth areas such as savoury, to drive impulse purchases and basket spend,” he says. “Within savoury biscuits, the main segment responsible for growth is ‘Convenient Savoury Snacking’, which is up by 27.6%.” Last year the company launched Burton’s Fish ‘n’ Chips and Cathedral City Baked Bites. This year it added two new flavour variants to the Fish ‘n’ Chips, Curry Sauce and Pickled Onion.

Meanwhile, United Biscuits says its Jacob’s Mini Cheddars is one of the best-performing brands in the category, growing at 16% year on year (Nielsen). To streamline its operations the company recently moved all of its crackers and baked snacks (except Carr’s) under the Jacob’s banner.

Better for you

The firm notes that healthier options is a big trend within the snacking arena. “Savoury snacks have a particularly strong role to play,” says Hena Chandarana, trade communications controller at United Biscuits. “Since 2012 our focus on ‘baked’ as opposed to ‘fried’ has been a fundamental priority for United Biscuits and our portfolio is 100% baked.”

The biggest piece of NPD for United Biscuits this year has also been designed to tap into growth in healthier savoury snacking. Jacob’s Cracker Crisps, which comes in three flavours (sea salt & balsamic vinegar, Thai sweet chilli and sour cream & chive), is available in a 150g sharing bag, while a 40g handy-pack will be launched later this year.

Healthier snacking is also a key focus for KP Snacks. It produces a selection of snacks with 100 calories or less, including Velvet Crunch, Pom-Bear, Skips, Space Raiders and its new Hula Hoops Puft (74 calories per pack).

And PepsiCo says its air-popped snack Pops (which contains 50% less fat than standard crisps) was the biggest crisps, snacks and nuts launch of 2014 (Nielsen).

But it’s not just savouries that are capitalising on the popularity of healthier options. Kettle Chips, which has seen sales rise 4% through impulse over the past year (Nielsen), compared with the 1% decline for the overall category, has also been quick to jump on the healthier bandwagon. “Kettle launched a new baked range last year, which has received great consumer feedback, and positive sales results,” says head of impulse Jim Couchman. The range includes a baked sweet potato variant, which contains 70% less fat than standard crisps.

Better-for-you snacks are particularly popular with younger consumers, claims distributor RH Amar. “Millennials are a key target audience when it comes to snacking. With a propensity to miss meals, skipping breakfast on average twice a week, they offer c-stores a big opportunity for snacking products,” says distributor impulse channel controller Karen Jones.

She also notes that this group is increasingly distrustful of food content and they have a strong desire to eat healthily. The company has recently taken on a selection of health-oriented snacks, including distribution of Wellaby’s gluten-free snacking range, which includes Lentil Chips, Pitta Chips and Hummus Chips.

Others also point to ‘significant growth’ from consumer interest in Free From foods, which some perceive as a healthier option. “Consumers are opting for Free From products as a lifestyle choice, rather than necessarily having a medical need to do so,” explains Tony Goodman, CEO, Yumsh Snacks, the producer of Ten Acre. All the firm’s crisps and popcorn are suitable for consumers following a gluten-free diet.

The focus on health has also paved the way for some more unusual offerings. Asian-inspired brand Itsu says it has seen a significant increase in demand for its seaweed thins. The light 5g snack contains only 22 calories and contains nutrients and vitamins.

Meanwhile, better-for-you snacks firm Calbee UK has launched Yushoi Snapea Rice Sticks, which are baked and contain less than 99 calories a pack. The protein-rich product is made from green peas and comes in flavours such as Smoked Salt and Szechuan Pepper.

With any evolving category it can be tricky to know which products to stock, and how to get customer buy-in. But Kay Patel, who runs four Bestway-supplied stores in East London, is confident that savoury snacks have a place in c-stores. “There has been a lot of NPD in this area; for us it’s just a question of getting the taste across so we have done a bit of sampling activity to help this,” he says.

And with the big brands continuing to invest in new product launches, there are plenty of reasons to get snack happy.

Merchandising tips

Burton’s David Costello says merchandising should be carried out according to usage.

“Block all ‘light meal’ ingredients together, such as cream crackers, Ryvita, crispbreads, rice cakes and oatcakes, and also all ‘special occasion’ products together, such as breadsticks, twirls, flavoured crackers and so on, and all ‘convenient snacking’ products together such as Fish ‘n’ Chips, Cathedral City Baked Bites, Oddities, Ritz and Snack-a-Jacks,” he explains.

Kettle’s Jim Couchman suggests retailers consider dual-siting crisps and snacks alongside sandwiches and soft drinks. “This will drive the basket spend of the lunchtime trade,” he says.

And PepsiCo’s Matt Goddard reminds retailers to place sharing bags in highly visible locations. “Nearly one in three sharing bags are purchased on impulse,” he says.

Kay Patel says that in his Bestway-supplied stores he separates sharing packs from smaller bags. “We always have the sharing packs near the alcohol, away from standard crisps,” he says. “We also have single packs of Walkers crisps as part of a meal deal near sandwiches.”

PMP packs are also important, according to KP Snacks. Its American Style Bubble Chips 90g sharing bag variant comes in a £1 pricemarked format for the summer.


Popcorn makes a play for the snack market

One of the real success stories within snacks has been popcorn, which is reportedly growing at 42% year on year.

“Popcorn is now seen as a credible mainstream snack alternative for a variety of occasions,” says Anjna Mistry, senior brand manager at Butterkist.

The producer is ready to bring out its new ‘taste-intense’ Discoveries range, which has been designed to meet consumer demand for more adventurous tastes. Flavours include sweet chilli & zesty lime, hickory BBQ pulled pork, alongside salted caramel.

“We believe we have identified an opportunity in the market for retailers to drive incremental sales as we head into BBQ, picnic and the big summer getaway season,” says Mistry.

Ten Acre is also recording strong growth for its popcorn range. “Retailers can be more adventurous in what they put on their shelves because consumers are willing to experiment,” says Tony Goodman, ceo Yumsh Snacks. Its popcorn variants come in unusual flavours such as sour cream & chive, lime & sea salt, fennel & lemon, wasabi and sweet & salty.

And the latest variant from Metcalfe’s skinny popcorn is honey bee, made with 100% natural ingredients and real honey.