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Candy, Savory Snacks Share Flavors


As American palates grow more sophisticated, consumers are increasingly discovering that the combined flavors of sweet candy and savory or salty snacks can result in a whole new level of delicious complexity.

“There have been positive trends for snacks that are a blend of savory and sweet for several years,” affirms Sally Lyons Wyatt, EVP and practice leader at Chicago-based market research firm IRI. “Consumers often find they want something that is both sweet and savory, and there are now a number of options that fit that request. For example, chocolate-covered salty snacks grew 11.3 percent in dollar sales. Even the new breakfast cookies provide a combination of sweet and savory, targeting the early-morning and morning occasions.”

For her part, Jenn Ellek, senior director for trade marketing and communications at the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA), notes the “innovation addressing a multitude of trends that are driving business success for many of these savory/sweet items that straddle the snack and confectionery category. A good example is one of NCA’s Sweets & Snacks Expo’s New Product Innovation winners: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Snappers,” a treat also incorporating pretzels. Ellek further points out that “both snacks and confectionery have seen very strong sales growth over the past year, well ahead of total edibles or total store growth. While in a way rival categories, hybrid products offer manufacturers the opportunity to extend their product lines and brands in other aisles in the store.”

The view is similar at retail. “Sweet and salty is huge right now, and driving innovation in both salty snacks and candy categories, with or without caramel, [with] variety and flavor options very much on trend,” says Eric Swenson, VP of center store at Springfield, Mass.-based Big Y Foods, which operates 67 stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Advent of ‘Snackfection’

Unsurprisingly, candy makers have been capitalizing on the growing overlap between candy and other types of snacks, even, in one case, coining a new term for the phenomenon.

According to Jessie Ferraioli, associate brand manager for snacks at Pennsylvania-based Hershey Co., “Our experience with consumers has shown us that they want a broad range of snacks that includes that special treat and the better-for-you snacks, as well as something in between which we call ‘snackfection.’”

Ferraioli goes on to explain: “In the ‘snackfection’ category, we have a number of sweet-and-savory snack mixes that evolved from our iconic sweets, including the Hershey’s, Reese’s and Mr. Goodbar brands. We recently relaunched our Take 5 Bars with pretzels, caramel, peanuts and chocolate that have an almost cult-like following, and we have our wholesome Brookside brand snack products like our Crunchy Clusters that combine fruit flavors and dark chocolate with whole grains. There has been a tremendous response to these products by consumers who love the sweet-and-salty combination as well as the unique flavors in Brookside products, such as açai and pomegranate. These Brookside products have evolved to the other side of the snack spectrum, with Brookside Fruit and Nut bars and the new Brookside Fruit and Yogurt bars, which just launched.”

In a similar vein, Goodnessknows snack squares, from Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America, “are a terrific example of this [hybrid] trend, since they combine dark chocolate with real fruit and nuts,” says Larry Lupo, VP of sales — grocery, convenience and drug channels. Divided into four snackable squares per 150-calorie serving, Goodnessknows comes in three varieties: Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate, Apple Almond & Peanut Dark Chocolate, and Peach & Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate.

Clark Taylor, VP of sales and marketing at Louisville, Ky.-based CandyRific, a manufacturer of licensed novelty confectionery, notes that “exciting flavor combinations and textures … are a lot like the new trends in the music industry with ‘smash-ups’ — taking something that has been around for a while and remixing it to make it your own. In past years, consumers were satisfied with the manufacturers selecting their candy trends and combinations. Today, they want to make their ‘own’ mix.”

To satisfy this desire for unusual flavors, CandyRific is “looking at [its] offerings for different spice and heat profiles, along with salty and even new versions for sweet,” Taylor divulges, adding, “Some of our future offerings are looking at adding heat with a sriracha sauce.”

Still, others are less convinced that such experimentation will be lasting. While acknowledging “a lot of sweet-and-salty combinations and [manufacturers’ incorporation of] the savory [into] the sweet experience,” Dennis Spiller, VP of national sales for Fairfield, Calif.-based Jelly Belly Candy Co., cautions: “The savory-and-sweet combination … may be more of a trend than a movement. Consumers are willing to try new flavor combinations and trends, but they aren’t easily converted. At the end of the day, if you want something sweet, you’ll eat it.”

That said, Jelly Belly offers its own style of unique flavor through the BeanBoozled jelly bean line, which Spiller describes as “a collection of 10 lookalike flavor pairs where one could be a delicious flavor and one could be an intentionally gross flavor. It’s taken off like a rocket, and 40 percent of the growth in my department is driven by the success of BeanBoozled. There are nearly 2 million user-generated videos of consumers taking the BeanBoozled Challenge on YouTube. … Flavor innovations like this keep us relevant and hold consumer interest.” The current fourth edition of the line adds two new pairings to the eclectic mix: Dead Fish/Strawberry Banana Smoothie and Spoiled Milk/Coconut.

Variations on a Theme

Flavor crossover is also occurring in the snack aisle. “I think we can thank whoever it was that decided salt and caramel should go together,” asserts Sheila G. Mains, founder of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Brownie Brittle, which re-creates the experience of eating the crispy brownie batter scraped from the sides of a baking pan. “Influences of varying cultures are coming together and being reflected in our snack choices. Sweet and savory is here to stay, and will continue to grow.” Mains’ company is adding to that growth with the pending launch of its Dark Chocolate Sea Salt variety.

Some manufacturers play up the health ramifications of their flavor profiles. “Sweet and salty is a delicious and satisfying flavor combination,” affirms Jim Breen, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based Way Better Snacks. “Gaining in popularity are unexpected, bolder, more innovative flavor combinations that continue to offer better-for-you benefits. I think success in this arena will be achieved by offering unique and innovative flavor variations that are made with real, premium, whole grain ingredients.”

In answer to this trend, the company last year added two seasonal flavors to its line of limited-edition whole grain tortilla chips: Ginger Snap and Apple Cinnamon Spice, joining “fan-favorite” Pumpkin Cranberry. “These chips are all made with real fruit and ginger for a delicate sweetness that is perfectly balanced with real sea salt,” notes Breen.

“There are certainly more blurred lines [between] confections and snacks,” agrees Erin Krause, director of product marketing at Denver-based Atkins Nutritionals Inc., which offers better-for-you snack bars and shakes. “The popular flavor of sea salt together with caramel is a perfect example, and we created the Atkins Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Harvest Trail bar because consumers still want the indulgence of a sweet flavor, but with the healthier profile of the nuts. It’s also more of an indulgent snack and feels more premium with the sea salt. We know many consumers have a sweet tooth, but they don’t want to get of track with their lifestyle — so the idea of a sweet-and-salty snack satisfies their cravings.”

Fortune Favors the Bold

Beyond the marriage of sweet and salty or sweet and savory, there are other ways to appeal to current appetites. Some snack segments are less influenced by those dynamic duos in particular, while still reacting to the overall demand for standout flavors. “We are certainly seeing some sweet-and-savory blending — driven mostly by nut companies,” observes Steve Kneepkens, VP of sales, marketing and R&D at Fairfield, Calif.-based Calbee North America, pointing out, however, that it’s “a peripheral opportunity at this point. We don’t see sweet-and-savory combinations being a driver to growth. … It fits a small percentage of snacking occasions.”

So what has Calbee, whose two latest launches are Whole Cuts potato crisps and the extension of its Harvest Snaps line into two black bean varieties, Mango Chile Lime and Habanero, found in regard to consumer flavor predilections?

“We are seeing a significant emergence of new base ingredients and more global flavors,” asserts Kneepkens. “New base ingredients include all pulses — peas, lentils, beans, chickpeas — ancient grains and rice. As you can imagine, social and digital media has brought consumer insights from all over the globe; therefore, new flavors that were once exotic are becoming mainstream, [such as] sriracha, peppers, curries [and] Tajin [a Mexican condiment brand featuring chili peppers, lime and salt]. Bold flavors generate excitement.”

Adds Kneepkens: “Textures are more varied than ever before. We are seeing significant changes to crackers, puffed items, even the potato chip category.”

Departures from the sweet/savory paradigm are also evident in some commercial baked goods. “We have noticed an overall sophistication of the consumer’s tastes and preferences,” says Dave Marson, founder of Nature’s Bakery, a Reno, Nev.-based maker of such items as whole wheat and gluten-free fig bars crafted from “thoughtful” ingredients. “We have developed flavors or flavor combinations that speak to that elevated palate. For example, we recently unveiled a range of Double Chocolate Brownies sweetened with dates. We have flavor varieties that combine chocolate with blueberry, raspberry or mint for a unique taste.”

Keeping Ahead

As more and more consumers expect candy and snacks to step up their flavors, companies in both categories must stay at the top of their game. Their future success depends on it.

“We’ll continue to innovate with new flavors and flavor combinations,” vows Brownie Brittle’s Mains, referring to her company’s innovative product line. “We created a category where none existed before, but we must stay ahead of the competition and continue to keep our brand fresh and exciting. Just because we opened up this category doesn’t mean it’s ours to keep. We must continue to innovate.”

“This is a challenging time for manufacturers, with the individualism that buyers are expecting and demanding,” admits CandyRific’s Taylor. “The manufacturers that can move quickly with trends and flavors will be the winners in this new opportunity.”

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same, at least in one important respect. “Snacks need to taste good,” stresses Calbee’s Kneepkens. “Although flavors are changing rapidly, it is a baseline requirement that snacks taste good. We are dealing with an emotive eating occasion — and taste in itself can be an emotional stabilizer.”

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