Standards are slipping in the crisps aisle. Not when it comes to quality or merchandising, but pack size, as it seems sales of standard packs are in freefall.

Kevin Hunt, who has 29 Spar stores in the North, believes the rise of the £1 multipack is destroying the single-serve market. “Yes, we still sell single packs,” he says, “but nowhere near as many as we used to. People will buy them for a quick ‘eat now’, but if a mum comes in and wants one or two packs for her children for a day out, she’ll always buy a multipack - and it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s on promotion.

“You walk into any c-store and you’ll find a multipack on promotion, and it’s slowly destroying the category because it demonstrates what spectacularly bad value a single bag is.”

Neil McRobbie, who has three Centra stores in the Newtownards area of County Down, agrees: “Sales of standards bags have dropped because of their ridiculously high prices. McCoy’s typically sell for between 89p and 97p. We stock a lot of £1 multipacks and big bags so if someone complains about the price of a standard bag I say we are giving them the choice, but then again a lot of people don’t trust themselves with a six-pack and just want a single bag.”

Premium nibbles

Are your customers looking for that extra-special treat that won’t break the bank? Premium snacking may be the way forward for you.

According to Nielsen data, Kettle Chips is the UK’s number one hand-cooked crisp, outperforming the total crisps and snacks market, with sales up by 5.2% year on year versus 2.1% for the category. Its sharing range is showing significant growth of 13.7% year on year, and its handy pack is a top 10 single-serve brand in convenience.

Cath White, senior marketing manager at Tyrrells, reckons the firm’s root veg crisps are a great way to add value and interest to the category. “During the past 12 months, Tyrrells has been focusing on innovation to give retailers an even broader opportunity to premiumise. For example, our new ‘Swanky’ veg range delivers innovative new crisp varieties, whereas crinkle cut rosemary & garlic veg crisps deliver innovation on both a flavour and format front. Finally, recently launched sweet potato & chipotle chilli builds on the growing trend for ‘heat and sweet’ combinations.”

Neil says the bigger bags of Walkers are usually pricemarked at £1.29, or are often on offer at two for £2, making them good value for the consumer.

Kevin points out that the slowdown in sales of standard bags creates difficulties. “They come in boxes of 48 and this is a problem if you only sell eight bags a week; they’ll be sitting on your shelf for six to seven weeks and are date sensitive. Smaller cases would definitely be a help.”

At Jeet Basi’s Londis in Banbury, Oxfordshire, there is a 3.5m run of standard crisps opposite the confectionery and a further 3-4m for multipacks and sharing bags, as well as promotional ends.

He says bagged snacks is an important category for the business, and it’s a growing one. “The growth is down to two reasons: first, crisps are a quick and easy snack, any time of day; second, they sell well at lunchtime as they go so well with a sandwich.

“If people are planning a big night in or a barbecue they go for the big sharing bags and multipacks. But if they’re coming in at lunchtime or just fancy a packet of crisps they buy a standard bag so there still is a place for them.”

However, like Kevin and Neil, Jeet says there is a problem with pricing. “A lot of people are trading up to bigger bags because they represent a better perception of value, but I do think a lot of people are eating the bigger bags themselves rather than sharing them.”

Jeet is currently selling a standard bag of Walkers at 59p - which is less than the rrp, but he’s keen to keep the price below 60p.

“Our last Walkers promotion had two standard bags for £1, but currently we have a six pack for £1, which is a very good offer. Londis has been doing some strong multipack promotions offering better value.

“We don’t do own brand crisps, but we do have some pricemarked at 20p and 30p, which are popular with school children.”

Jeet reports that Phileas Fogg has been selling well as the 150g packs have been on promotion at £1. “And when Doritos are on offer they sell well. Most customers will switch brand if something is on promotion, but mums are quite loyal if they are buying for their children and want Wotsits or Quavers.”

There’s no doubt that Walkers reigns supreme in crisps and snacks. Indeed, Tayto used to be Neil’s biggest seller, but over the past couple of years Walkers has taken over. “We promote both brands so it’s like Coke and Pepsi, with one always on promotion,” he says.

But the snacks category is not all about massive brands as Kevin’s stores do well with Spar-branded nuts: “Peanuts and cashews sell well all year round. They are very good impulse lines that sell well with beer,” he explains.

Healthy swaps

While government websites such as Change 4 Life, GPs and nutritionists actively encourage consumers to switch to healthier snacks, it seems the message isn’t getting through to everyone. If you run a convenience store in an affluent area your punters probably swapped their crisps for sunflower seeds or almonds a long time ago, but elsewhere people still enjoy fat- and salt-laden snacks.

Traditional vs trendy

Cheese & onion, salt & vinegar and ready salted may be the best-selling flavours of crisps, but there are some regional preferences that retailers should take into account. For Centra retailer Neil McRobbie in County Down, those regional preferences mean that pickled onion is his third best-selling flavour when it comes to crisps.

New flavours do add some excitement to the category, but for some c-store retailers, manufacturers have taken it a little too far. Spar retailer Kevin Hunt says: “We welcome new lines and innovation, but not Walkers’ latest silly flavours. We don’t see a big success with those - we did five years ago but now it’s old hat.”

Jeet Bansi from Londis in Banbury agrees: “The novelty of designing your own flavours has worn off.”

Despite these retailers’ views, Walkers reports that it has had more than 100,000 entries to its latest ‘Do Us A Flavour’ competition. Some of the weirder flavours submitted to the competition include piri piri pigeon with sour cream and afternoon tea, cheese & cucumber, with ranch racoon making it to shelves.

And such is Walkers’ love of new tastes that it’s made up a word to represent the blend of sweet and savoury flavours - ‘sweevoury’ - to describe its new Sensations popcorn.

“Healthy snacks work in certain outlets where the consumer demographic is right,” says Kevin. “We’re trying hard at Spar to promote health with a better, healthier range; we even now include fruit in the meal deal. But we are not well known for healthier snacks - yet.”

But Neil McRobbie says his customers don’t really go for healthier snacks. “Some like the choice, but most people buy the snacks they like and know not to eat too many of them. Most of the snacks bought here are impulse purchases where people are thinking flavour then price. They know which brand they want and go straight to it. We don’t get many people lingering over the backs of packs, looking at the ingredients.”

Jeet says his store is not strong on healthier snacks but in his defence, he hasn’t had the demand for them. “If a supplier had a good offer on that we could pass onto our customers then we would try it and evaluate sales for the future.”

Nick Dawson, UK customer director, speciality channels at Kellogg’s, admits that the healthier crisps market is still small, but says it is growing rapidly and that sales are incremental to the category. “Generally, people don’t tend to buy crisps when on a diet, so there is a tremendous opportunity to grow category sales here,” he explains.

Dawson says that what’s so appealing about Kellogg’s Special K Cracker Crisps is the different formats that are available - a box for sharing, single packs and multi-packs. “They contain less than 99 calories a bag for a serving of 21 crisps, which is a big selling point for shoppers, especially women as we know nearly a fifth (19%) of women are on the lookout for healthier snacks outside the home.”

Other manufacturers are working hard to bring out healthier snacks that taste good. KP believes it’s got it right with its relaunched Velvet Crunch. Matt Collins, trading controller convenience at KP Snacks, explains: “The newly relaunched brand meets the demands of adults who want healthy snack options with ‘real snacking pleasure’ without compromising on taste. Retailers who stock up on the new Velvet Crunch Gourmet Bites range and maximise visibility can expect to grow their healthier snacks sales.”

Pop to it

One trend in snacking that can’t be avoided is the rise in popularity of popcorn. Everywhere you turn it seems another manufacturer is launching a new popcorn product. And the fact that Walkers has entered the fray with Sensations popcorn shows the potential for sales. According to Kantar data, almost nine million households now purchase ready-to-eat popcorn, with the category enjoying sales growth of 25.4% year on year (Nielsen).

“Popcorn is now viewed as a healthier alternative to more calorific snacks such as crisps and nuts,” says Butterkist brand manager Helena Blincow. “The lower-calorie content makes it the ideal accompaniment at lunchtime, as well as a perfect in-between meal snacking treat.”

Previously best known for its toffee popcorn, Butterkist now offers savoury flavours. These include a new mixed sweet & savoury variant as well as sea salt & balsamic vinegar, sour cream & chive and Thai sweet chilli.

Neil McRobbie is a big fan of the mixed sweet and savoury flavour, but he stocks it only when it’s available at the right price. “Personally, I’d never eat just savoury popcorn,” Neil says. “Here we still associate popcorn with being sweet. I tried the new Sensations in store but it sold very slowly. The cinnamon & brown sugar was very nice, but the other flavours didn’t appeal to me.”

Blincow says it’s important that retailers ensure they are covering all usage occasions within the category, offering different pack formats targeted at different consumer needs. “For example, offering sharing packs to target movie nights in, such as the Butterkist toffee and sweet sharing cartons, along with smaller snack packs or multipacks, such as the Butterkist classic variety six-pack, allows consumers to select the product most suited to their eating requirements.”

Jeet Bansi stocks Butterkist and Bobby’s ready-made popcorn as well as microwaveable popcorn - salted and sweet - at a couple of price points. “We’ve seen huge demand for popping corn - the type that people take home and pop themselves. We sell big bags of that (500g-2kg) as it offers better value for money than the microwaveable stuff.”

A brand to look out for is Metcalfe’s Skinny Topcorn, which is currently listed in Asda and Sainsbury’s Locals as well as in Boots and Superdrug. The company says it will be targeting Budgens, Costcutter, Nisa and McColl’s in the next 12 months. Flavours include sweet ‘n’ salt, wasabi glaze, chocolate crackle and heat ‘n’ sweet.

Another popcorn brand to watch is Propercorn, which is selling more than one million packs a month with sales expected to triple over the next year. Again it comes in some unusual flavours including fiery Worcester sauce & sun-dried tomato and sweet coconut & vanilla.

With all this activity in the popcorn market, it might be worth popping out and taking a look at what other retailers are selling - offering something better, healthier or just that little bit different could bring in some extra sales.


McCoy’s now available in PMPs

McCoy’s top three flavours - salt & malt vinegar, flame grilled steak and cheddar & onion - are available in 55p pricemarked handy packs (35g) on a ‘three for two’ case deal.

Seasonal Kettle Chips flavour

Lime & black pepper is the latest seasonal flavour from Kettle Chips - available until September in 150g sharing bags (rrp £2.19).

Gaea unveils Greek dip range

According to Mintel, there is a growing demand for healthier dips. Gaea’s answer to this is a range of authentic Greek tapenades. The tapenades combine crushed, mixed and blended natural ingredients, made to traditional recipes, to offer shoppers both flavoursome and wholesome dip options.

Cheez Dippers now known as Dip & Crunch

Laughing Cow Cheez Dippers has been renamed Dip & Crunch in a bid to broaden the product’s appeal to adults. Dip & Crunch has a more adult look and feel, with a stronger emphasis on the heritage of the Laughing Cow brand. There are three varieties: original, light and multigrain. The company says the move is designed to boost on-shelf standout and offer a wider choice to the brand’s health-conscious fan base.

Retro success

Burton’s Biscuit Co expects sales of Burton’s Fish ‘n’ Chips to exceed £10m in their first year. Last produced more than a decade ago, Burton’s Fish ‘n’ Chips keep their newspaper-style packaging and come in a 40g grab bag, 5x25g multipack and 125g share bag.