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Pop Go The Snacks


Driven by consumer concerns with health and taste, popped offerings explode.

Popcorn is nothing new, but popped snacks of various types have lately become "a very hot platform," according to Barry S. Renow, president and COO of Freeport, N.Y.-based Medora Snacks LLC, maker of triangular PopCorners, which the company hails as "the new shape of popcorn."

The main reason for this, notes Renow, is that consumers are focused on products that are good-tasting but still healthy, and popped snacks have a "crispy texture" that "feels good in the mouth."

Renow's insights are echoed by other players in the burgeoning segment. "As health-and-wellness trends continue to gain momentum, snackers are increasingly looking for great-tasting snacks without the guilt, including lower fat and calories, and natural ingredients," says Keith Belling, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Popchips, a line of never-baked, never-fried potato crisps, "but no matter how compelling the nutritionals are, the snacks have to be delicious."

"The influx of new baked and popped snacks [is] evidence of the growing interest [in] better-for-you choices," adds Caroline Giuffrida, director of marketing at Ayer, Mass.-based Cains Foods LP, whose latest product, Olde Cape Cod Multi Grain Popped Crisps, bowed last December.

"Taste comes first with consumers when it comes to popped snacks," assents, Brad Goist, VP and general manager, cookies and crackers at the Kellogg Co. in Battle Creek, Mich. "Consumers look for unique textures and flavors from their favorite brands. That's why Special K Popcorn Chips have been so successful."

Little Billboards

Having last year launched a line of popped tortilla chips in four "taste bud-popping" flavors — Nacho, Ranch, Chili Limón and Salsa — Popchips rang in 2013 with the launch of Katy's Kettle Corn, named for pop music sensation Katy Perry, at Target stores nationwide.

According to Belling, the integrated promotional campaign featured "an appearance by Katy Perry on the 'Ellen' show • to officially launch Katy's Kettle Corn [and] included handing out [the product] to the audience, along with a $250 gift card to Target. Merchandising commitments included an on-shelf planogram, checklane end caps in all SuperTargets and demos at select Target stores. ... marketing support included a custom Popchips microsite, digital coupons, run-of-site Web banners, a homepage spotlight and Facebook posts to Target's 21 million Facebook fans."

Additionally, Popchips is bolstering its "in-store presence through a mix of on-shelf and off-shelf merchandising," notes Belling. "On shelf, we strive to create a strong brand block by merchandising our products together on the same shelf. This helps ensure our vivid packaging captures the shoppers' attention."

As a result of such activity, Popchips has continued to see "strong double-digit growth," says Belling.

Rather than roll out traditional in-store retail promotions, PopCorners has chosen to collaborate with JetBlue, food banks, and social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. The snack line is also now available at AMC Movie Theaters in Healthy Snack Packs.

"Every bag that's out there is like its own little billboard," affirms Renow, adding that reliance on word of mouth means that the brand hasn't needed other forms of promotion. The strategy has paid off so far: The snack's "exponential" growth has its sales on track to rise an impressive 150 percent next year, Renow notes.

Further, over the next few months, Medora will roll out a snack line it's dubbed "the new shape of whole grain." The hexagonal product comes in Sweet Cinnamon, Twisted Salt and Memphis BBQ varieties and features a Whole Grains Council stamp on the packaging.

Introduced last September in Sweet & Salty, Butter, and Sea Salt flavors, Special K Popcorn Chips "are included in the Special K franchise promotions at Resolution (around New Year's), Spring Challenge and Fall Challenge," explains Goist. "These are seasonal periods where weight management is top of mind for consumers, and that insight serves as an entry point to the brand. As a franchise, we win at these promotional periods with in-store displays and features, innovations, and promotional offers."

The brand's efforts have led to large gains for all of its snacks, including the popped items, he adds.

For Olde Cape Cod, placement is particularly important. "Our goal is to position our products in the mainstream salty snack aisle," observes Giuffrida. "We typically use wire racks, weekender displays and punch-out displays for off-shelf merchandising." Sales have grown steadily as the company has gained new distribution, she adds, with spikes normally seen during its quarterly promotions.

Snack Evolution

What's to come in what Renow refers to as the "ever-evolving" popped snack segment? "We see the continuation of new product offerings which are perceived by the consumer as healthier," predicts Giuffrida. "In addition, the introduction of bold, exciting flavors [will] draw consumer interest and respond to their more sophisticated flavor palate."

"Consumers look for unique textures and flavors from their favorite brands."

—Brad Goist, Kellogg Co.

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