Up and Down the Street
By Andy Hanacek
Innovation Continues to Drive Snack Food Industry
With low-carb finally creeping its way out of the psyche of the snack food world, innovation and response to real trends will be the key way that snack manufacturers can create growth.
Valerie Skala Walker, vice president of analytic product management for Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), presented several of those trends during her SNAXPO “Trends and Innovation in Snack Foods” session. With IRI’s 2004 New Product Pacesetters report as background, Walker said that innovation drives the trends across most food categories, but that there is always the challenge of getting new products noticed, and the snack industry is no different.
The number of new snack food products introduced annually has increased in the past five years, and in 2004, the snack food industry launched more than 1,600 new items, according to Walker. Yet, only one snack item, Nabisco Ritz Chips crackers — with dollar sales across food, drug and mass channels (F/D/Mx), excluding Wal-Mart, at $76 million — made it into the Top 10 New Products Pacesetters list in 2004.
Grab the Bull by the Horns
When a category is growing, that’s the best time to advertise your brand, Walker advised attendees, because the newest consumers are looking for brands that jump out when they’re choosing their initial entrance into the market. Walker cited the Emerald Nuts “Easter Bunny” commercial as a prime example of this.
According to IRI data, the snack nuts category experienced a 15% up-tick in dollar sales in 2004 versus 2003, to $185 million. Consumers have been attracted to nuts’ good-for-you qualities — good amounts of unsaturated fat and antioxidants. Walker said that in 1989, only 14% of consumers considered nuts an every-day snack, but that number rose to 51% in 2002. And the category was still growing in the fourth quarter of 2004.
During the latest growth spurt, Emerald stuck itself in the minds of consumers with a memorable commercial featuring the “Easter Bunny.”
Because of this commercial, Emerald took full advantage of the increased popularity of snack nuts, though growth in the segment was not limited to Emerald.
Salted Snacks Remain Flat
As a whole, the salted snack category for 2004 was up 0.4% in dollar sales but down 1.7% in volume sales (F/D/Mx, excluding Wal-Mart). The best growth came from other salted snacks (not including nuts), which grew, Walker said, because of the success of snack mixes and organic/exotic vegetable crisp-type snacks.
Though potato chips were mostly flat, kettle-cooked chips have become quite popular, with sales growth of several individual brands versus one year ago registering strongly among IRI’s top brands.
Pretzels, corn chips/snacks and ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn all experienced sharp declines in 2004, no doubt a result of the low-carb craze. On the flip side, pork rinds saw very strong growth during that period, only to slip as the low-carb craze began its wane from popularity.
Of course, nutrition will play some sort of role in the future, and Walker believes we are seeing a shift away from snacks being a calorie-laden energy boost toward more nutritional options in salted snacks. In fact, natural/organic has been a growing segment in salted snacks and is fairly new to emerge across the board, but many manufacturers are having solid success in that segment.
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