You know the country’s tastes are changing when the UK’s dominant crisp manufacturer puts its standard crisp range on a ‘better for you’ platform.
Walkers Crisps - the UK’s number one food brand with sales of nine million packs per day - will now be made using a new recipe to address consumers’ concerns about fat and salt levels.
Walkers’ parent company Pepsico has scoured the world to source the right kind of cooking fat to reduce saturated fat levels in the crisps without adversely affecting the taste. In the end, it settled on sunseed oil, a previously little-used oil similar to sunflower oil but made from a specific type of seed.
It took the company five years, but it has now secured sufficient supply of the oil to cook the entire standard Walkers range for the foreseeable future, at an annual extra cost of £6m.
The net result of using sunseed oil is that although the fat levels in Walkers standard crisps remain the same, the levels of saturated fat, seen by consumers as the main “danger fat”, are 70% lower. A 25% cut has also been made in the salt level, meaning that each bag now contains 0.5g of salt, which is 8% of the recommended daily allowance and the same as is in a standard slice of bread.
But the changes don’t end there. New pack designs have been introduced, with a new logo and a gold border, suggesting a new gold standard for crisps.
A shake-up of flavours means that Worcester sauce, pickled onion and Heinz tomato ketchup flavours are to be delisted from the market in England and Wales, to be replaced by spicy chilli, Cheddar cheese and lamb & mint, although in Scotland pickled onion and tomato ketchup will be retained.
The new flavours have scored well in research and as limited-editions in the past, but also enable Walkers to target specific sections of the market. Spicy chilli is expected to appeal most strongly to female consumers, Cheddar cheese is aimed more at families and the 35- to 55-year-old age bracket, while lamb & mint has already proved popular with teenagers.
Lamb & mint and spicy chilli will also be available in six-packs, and here again the rules have been changed. While the six-pack has been retained, 12s and 24s have become 14s and 26s, while Walkers has set new target price points for multipacks - 98p for sixes, £1.98 for 14s and £2.98 for 26s.
And backing it all up is a new advertising campaign. Under the banner of ‘Walkers Eat Happy’, a huge TV, cinema, press, poster and direct mail campaign will kick off on March 1, with a £20m spend.
The TV ads, featuring familiar brand spokesman Gary Lineker, will run until the end of May.
Walkers general manager Neil Campbell says: “Consumer research told us that our consumers still wanted great tasting snacks, but they wanted them to be better for them. By cooking our crisps in sunseed oil we have been able to do this.
“One of the reasons for PepsiCo UK’s success is that we anticipate consumers’ needs. That’s why in response to the increased focus on a healthy lifestyle, we have introduced other lower-fat options like Quaker SNJ, Quaker Seasons, Walkers Potato Heads. and new Walkers Cheese Heads, with 60% less fat than Mini Cheddars.
“The reduction of saturated fat and salt as part of the Walkers relaunch is our most significant response to date - but there will be more news to come.”