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Rethinking the Snack Category


The increasingly powerful snacking trend and growing demand for foods and beverages with unique qualities – natural, functional, energizing, satiating and convenient – are causing consumers, manufacturers and retailers to rethink the traditional snack category, with products continuing to evolve and lines increasingly blurring.

In the $72 billion combined channel snack segment, which grew 2.5 percent during the past year, specialty products have driven much of the growth, particularly outside of the specialty grocery sector, said Kora Lazarski, strategic alliance manager with Chicago-based consumer insights and analytics provider SPINS, in a July 27 webinar from the National Confectioners Association, Washington, D.C. This suggests that grocers are one of the channels seeing strong growth in specialty snacks.

And while the three biggest snack categories in the specialty channel – chips, pretzels and snacks ($269.8 million); candy and individual snacks ($198.6 million); and cookies and snack bars ($135.7 million) – continue to grow and dominate the category, greater percent dollar growth has been occurring in smaller areas, including nuts, seeds, dried fruits and vegetables (8.3 percent); energy bars and gels (13 percent); and jerky and other meat snacks (26.4 percent). This suggests that grocers could soon see a lot more power from these smaller sectors.

“There’s still a big appetite for all things sweet, but the growth story is really happening with products that have certain qualities,” Lazarski said.

Talking Trends

For grocery retailers looking to see what’s next in these growing spaces, Lazarski pointed to six of the latest trends she sees. These are:

  • Animal Brews: While there once was no question that jerky was the only animal-based option in the snack category, this reality is changing. Products here include cold-pressed coffee mixed with butter from grass-fed cows, bone broth, and broth mixed with such functional ingredients as cayenne, turmeric and flaxseed oil. These types of products, Lazarski emphasizes, aren’t designed to be “guzzled down with a snack,” but to replace meals altogether.
  • Liquid Feasts: The line between beverages and soups appears to be blurring. Lazarski pointed to products such as chilled vegetable soup packaged more like a cold-pressed juice; elixirs with super-herbs, roots and fungi (e.g., turmeric, matcha, maca and reishi); and fiber-forward veggie beverages that “look more like salad than soda.”
  • Uber Chocolate: Chocolate is no longer about just basic dark, milk and white offerings. New products on the market include cocoa with tea, algae and herbs traditionally found in the supplement aisle; hot chocolate with reishi mushrooms, which promote a calming effect; and bars in which milk solids are swapped for stone-ground cashew butter to provide non-dairy protein.
  • Bars With Horsepower: Some of the new protein-packed bars on the market look more like a compressed Thanksgiving feast than a small snack. Some of the latest ingredients include animal proteins (e.g., turkey, chicken and bison), sweet potato, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, turmeric, ginger and beets, contributing both protein and fiber to one’s diet.
  • Comfort Veggies: New root and other vegetables are taking the place of potatoes in snacking, with new offerings including fried chips made from sliced onions, non-fried jicama chips boasting added fiber, and even chips made from fresh-pressed veggies leftover from juicing.
  • Build Your Own Adventure: There’s a place for high-quality, highly satisfying snacks in today’s market. Snack packs are going gourmet with high-quality cheese and unique breadstick flavors (e.g., tomato and herb), superfood-enhanced peanut butters and non-peanut nut and seed butters with pretzels. Additionally, products such as portioned packets filled with mānuka honey, which often is sold as an alternative medicine, address consumers’ desire for something sweet that also has healthful attributes.
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