In Tough Times, Consumers Reach for Salty Snacks

When the chips are down, consumers seek out potato chips, so says the latest research from Mintel, which finds the potato chip market growing 22 percent in 2009 vs. 2007. This is a significant uptick for the market, which has seen only modest sales increases over the recent years, and may reflect consumers’ growing demand for small treats and “affordable indulgences” as recession relief.

And it’s not just potato chips that have seen a sales spike. The tortilla chip market expanded 18 percent since 2007, while popcorn (17 percent) and cheese snacks (20 percent) also saw their markets grow significantly. Trail mix is another market to watch, said Bill Patterson, senior analyst at Mintel who oversees all food and drink markets. While it’s smaller than many other markets, trail mix grew in the 2006-2008 period by over 40 percent.

Salty snacks may be seeing a rise because they complement new consumer cost-saving behaviors, such as staying home to watch movies instead of going out, bringing lunch to work and eating out less. “If people are staying home and watching TV, then they’re grabbing a pack of chips or a bag of popcorn,” said Patterson, noting a parallel rise in at-home booze sales that he believes goes hand-in-hand with the salty snacks growth. “People are saying, ‘maybe I’ll cut back a little bit, but I’m still going to have a drink,’ and if you’re cutting back on going to the bar, you can have a little beer or wine and it’s a better deal.”

Despite the sales growth, however, companies have slowed the roll out of new salty snack products. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, while there were 1,288 new salty snack products launched in 2007 and 1,296 launched in 2008, there have only been 402 launched so far in the first six months of 2009. Patterson says that speaking with the new product group at Mintel, even though new products may have slowed, they are expecting a growth in affordable indulgences.

“What you normally expect to start appearing now is small indulgences and new products with indulgent packs that give you that small treat,” said Patterson.
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