A-Salt On The Senses

By Deborah Cassell

Intense flavor profiles pack a punch in today’s chip aisle, where Mediterranean, Mexican and even Asian-inspired creations are kicking things up a notch. Low-sodium, reduced-fat, whole grain, baked and organic innovations get in some good jabs, too.

Philly Cheese Steak. Creamy Caesar. Extra Hot Beer BBQ. Buffalo Bleu. Spicy Thai. Sweet Chili & Sour Cream. Although they might sound like menu items from your favorite restaurant chain, these flavors actually are types of potato chips sold, or soon to be available, at grocery stores around the country.
Snack producers are unveiling an increasing number and a wider variety of spicier, tastier, more complex, savory flavor profiles in the chip aisle to appease Americans’ ever-expanding taste buds. The a-salt on the senses is strong and shows no signs of backing off, as this year’s hard-hitting product introductions prove.
“Consumers are looking for a taste adventure with their snacks,” says Michelle Peterman, vice president of marketing for Salem, Ore.-based Kettle Foods, maker of such potato chip flavors as Spicy Thai and Cheddar Beer. (See “Future Flavors of America,” page 20, for details.) “They’re looking to literally go some place with a snack.”
Whether it’s a trip to the deep-fried South or to the Tuscan region of Italy that shoppers dream of, they now can find an escape to those locales and others across the world by walking down their supermarket’s snack aisle.
“We are constantly working on new flavors,” says Paul Smith, product manager for Shearer’s Foods, Brewster, Ohio, the brains behind Buffalo Wing Bleu Kettle Cooked Chips. “We take inspiration from culinary trends and are pursuing Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean and other exotic flavorings.”
Such inspirations have resulted in an arresting array of snack selections, some sure to hit and run, and others that will remain for the long haul.
Savor the Flavor
Although traditional salted potato chips continue to serve savory-favoring consumers, more innovative flavors are forging ahead with gusto.
Some like it hot, and Boyer’s knows it. Since 1939, the Rural Valley, Pa.-based manufacturer has been challenging consumers’ taste buds with powerful flavor profiles. For instance, Boyer’s potent Hot Vinegar Potato Chips satisfy consumers with a high tolerance for pain. The chips add to the company’s already extensive line of high-impact offerings, including Extra Hot Beer BBQ, Onion & Garlic, Jalapeno, Sour Cream & Green Onion and the aptly named Ouch! Chips, which are labeled “Hot” to warn snackers of the extra-hot cayenne powder content.
Category leader Frito-Lay also is focusing on chips with kick. The Plano, Texas-based snack producer recently unveiled its new Lay’s Sensations and Tostitos Sensations. The Lay’s snacks come in two flavors: Lime & Cracked Black Pepper and Sweet Chili & Sour Cream. The Tostitos items come in Red Chile & Lime with Crushed Red Pepper and Southwestern Ranch with Black Peppercorn varieties.
In addition, Frito-Lay has a new niche product for our neighbors to the north. Consumers in Vancouver and Toronto soon will be able to buy the company’s new line of Asian-inspired snacks, including Wasabi and Spice-Curry Crisps. A marketing campaign that targets Asian consumers through Chinese-language newspapers and television stations will support the rollout.
The Asian invasion persists at Clinton, Mich.-based Eden Foods, whose Hot’n Spicy Wasabi Chips combine grain, vegetables, natural seasonings and rice bran oil for a light and crunchy, wholesome hot-to-trot taste. Birds Eye Foods, Algona, Wash., offers Tim’s Cascade Style Wasabi Potato Chips, which also reflect the mustard-meets-horseradish condiment that’s a common accompaniment to sushi. So do Shearer’s Sweet Wasabi Mustard Kettle Cooked Chips. Could someone please pass the soy sauce?
Steak Escape
The idea of potato chips that mimic dips, sauces or even appetizers isn’t new, but it certainly is popular. Take Poore Brother’s, Goodyear, Ariz., whose TGI Friday’s line features such products as potato skin chips in Cheddar and Bacon, Sour Cream & Onion, Cheddar & Sour Cream, and Chili & Cheese flavors, as well as Mozzarella Snack Sticks and Onion Rings.
But rarely does a snack manufacturer produce a chip that tastes like a sandwich. Herr’s, a Nottingham, Pa.-based snack producer, has taken all the flavor of hot sliced beef, grilled onions and melted cheese on a hoagie roll and packed it into the company’s new Philly Cheese Steak flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.
“We worked hard to capture the taste of the world-renowned Philly cheese steak,” Herr Foods President Ed Herr said in a press release.
The chips, which retail for $.99 for a 2.125-oz. bag, join Herr’s line of kettle-cooked creations, including Original, Mesquite BBQ, Jalapeno, Boardwalk Salt & Vinegar and Sour Cream & Onion.
Pedal to the Kettle
Perhaps nothing evokes a more homegrown, home-cooked, hand-peeled and boiled image than the kettle chip.
“Extra-crunchy, kettle-cooked potato chips continue to grow as a snack food category,” Smith says, adding that Shearer’s launched Buffalo Wing Bleu Cheese Flavored Kettle Chips last fall and will unveil Tavern Style Kettle Cooked Potato Chips this May. “People prefer the texture and taste of these premium, small batch-produced potato chips over the crispy traditional type.”
Anther popular brand in the kettle-cooked category comes from Hyannis, Mass.-based Lance, whose Cape Cod Kettle Chips come in such fresh flavorings as Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper, Beachside Barbecue and Jalapeño & Aged Cheddar.
Many potato chip manufacturers offer a version of the kettle chip, which, as Smith mentioned, are batch-cooked instead of continuously fried. On grocery shelves, the kettle-cooked process should not be confused with the brand name that belongs to Kettle Foods, which makes a variety of snacks from whole slices of locally grown, organic Russet potatoes. Kettle’s offerings range from its original all-natural, hand-cooked potato chips to its Krinkle Cut Chips to organic innovations.
Stripped Chips
Low-sodium, low-fat, organic, whole grain and baked potato chips meet the more healthful snack profiles that consumers are craving … or that their doctors are ordering. For instance, The Hain Celestial Group, Melville, NY, offers its Terra Chips brand, now featuring Parsnip Chips, a slightly sweet product with a hint of salt. In addition, Terra’s new Unsalted Potato Chips are kettle-cooked with 90% less sodium than regular potato chips. They come in three all-natural varieties: Au Naturel, Hickory BBQ and Lemon Pepper.
Mill Valley, Calif.-based Corazonas Foods has a new 100% natural, heart-healthy tortilla chip that’s proven to help lower cholesterol, according to the packaging. The chip comes in three tasty varieties: Original, Jalapeño Jack and Salsa Picante.
Shearer’s Foods currently is working on creating reduced-sodium products for the near future, according to Smith. This June, the manufacturer will offers 40% Reduced Fat Kettle Cooked Potato Chips for those in search of ways to snack without the guilt … and without sacrificing taste.
For consumers who desire an organic experience, Shearer’s offers its 100% Blue Tortilla Chip with Sesame Seeds and an organic 100% Yellow Corn Tortilla Chip. The company is hoping to unveil more organic recipes in the future, Smith adds.
Meanwhile, The Hain Celestrial Group’s Garden of Eatin’ brand recently added a new flavor, Brown Sugar and Cinnamon, to its organic, savory pita chip line, which already includes Sea Salt, Greek Isle and Asian Spice varieties. It also added its first organic cheese snacks — Cheddar Cheese Puffs and Cheddar Cheese Crunchitos — baked with organic corn and organic cheddar cheese. Crunchitos have 30% less fat than other leading brands, according to the manufacturer.
In response to the whole grain movement taking America by storm, many snack producers are offering whole grain tortilla chips that meet grain expectations.
In December, Shearer’s launched a line of whole grain tortilla chips in keeping with increased demand from consumers and educational messages from the Food and Drug Administration and the Whole Grains Council. The snack producer also is unveiling a new specialty tortilla line in May that will produce premium, authentic Cantina Style Masa Flour Tortilla Chips.
“By helping people meet their three recommended daily servings of whole grain without sacrificing great taste, we feel our new flavors of Regular and Black Bean and Salsa are great examples of ‘Shearer Perfection in Every Bag,’” Smith says.
Finally, consumers who prefer their snacks baked, not fried, should check out Kettle Foods’ new Kettle brand Bakes — a new and improved version of its Kettle Krisps — in Spicy Thai, Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese varieties. The crisps have 65% less fat than regular potato chips and only 120 calories per serving, making them yet another healthy snacking option.
Twist Kick
Although potato chips have their place — at Memorial Day feasts, graduation parties and summer barbecues, for instance — many people consider pretzels the healthiest way to satisfy.
For instance, Snack Factory, Princeton, NJ, offers Pretzel Crisps, a relatively new product now succeeding at retail. The Crisps are “elegant enough for entertaining, as well as healthy enough for everyday snacking,” says Sara Wilson, vice president of new product development.
Available nationwide in grocery, club and retail channels, the spreadable, dippable Pretzel Crisps are selling extremely well, Wilson explains, because they holds three key characteristics of a blockbuster hit. “A quality gourmet snack that truly has a phenomenal flavor at an affordable price, the product is packaged very well and does not out-price itself,” she says.
The pretzel category as a whole is enjoying an uprise, Wilson adds. That good news is sparking new product development in a typically stagnate category. For example, Herr Foods’ new fiber-rich, heart-healthy Whole Grain Pretzels are made with 12 grains, flaxseed and honey, making the FDA’s new whole grain recommendations much easier to swallow. The pretzels are low in fat, contain zero grams of trans fat, and are just 110 calories per serving. Herr’s Whole Grain Pretzels retail for $2.29 for a 10-oz. bag.
Also new to the snack aisle are Kettle Foods’ Kettle Bakes Pretzel Chips, available in three flavors — Honey Dijon, Original (salted) and Fully Loaded — the last of which resembles an Everything bagel with its sesame seed, poppy seed and onion flavors, according to Peterman. Made from organic flour and topped with all-natural seasonings, Pretzel Chips will hit stores in May, retailing for $3.29 for a 7-oz. bag.
Such products are ideal solutions for that afternoon snack attack that’s sure to sneak up on you when you least expect it. You might just sense one coming on right now … SF&WB
Future Flavors of America
Election Day has come and gone, but the results stand strong. Kettle Foods’ People’s Choice Awards recently recognized the future chips of America, as voted on by Kettle brand fans, er, constituents. The consumers have spoken, and the winners are … Tuscan Three Cheese and Buffalo Bleu! The two flavors tied for first in the snack producer’s annual competition, which means that Kettle will be bringing both varieties to retail shelves this fall.
“That’s been such a surprise for us, how bold the Kettle fan base is with their flavor choices,” Michelle Peterman, vice president of marketing for Kettle Foods, says of the diverse seasoning profiles selected. For instance, last year’s People’s Choice recipients were Spicy Thai and Cheddar Beer. The two flavors now are selling successfully in stores, thanks to the many nominations they received in 2005.