The Super Snack Bowl

By Deborah Cassell

This season, consumers are playing a healthier field when it comes to choosing pretzels, chips and crackers for the biggest snacking event of the year.

No matter which team wins Super Bowl XLI (Go Bears!), snack manufacturers are sure to score big on Feb. 4. Although potato chips, pretzels and crackers are traditional fare for football fans on any given Sunday, a new generation of players in these categories — including whole grain, organic, baked, reduced-sodium and low-fat munchies — might emerge as the eventual champions in 2007.
Pretzels and baked snacks have experienced double-digit growth since last year, according to nutritionist Lisa Katic, who presented this information at the Snack Food Association’s aptly named Pretzel & Baked Snacks Seminar last November. Driving growth in the category is innovations in portion-control, taste and variety, as well as improved merchandising and distributional points of access, and educational initiatives regarding heart health, for example, Katic adds.
“Healthier is outpacing indulgent,” she says, pointing towards baked potato chips and baked tortilla chips as examples of said growth.
Perhaps one reason for the renewed focus on health is the number of aging Baby Boomers in America, most of whom are concerned with high cholesterol, cardiovascular problems and other chronic diseases. “Better for you” also is of interest when it comes to kids’ snacks.
Whether Kennedy- or Truman-era Baby Boomers or Generation X- and Y-ers, football fans come in every age, which is why this year’s big game will be all about the healthy snacks … and possibly some quarterback sacks.
1st Down
Pretzels posted $585.2 million in sales in the latest 52 weeks ending Dec. 31, 2006, according to data from Information Resources, Inc. Whether in stick, rod, nugget or crisp form, pretzels have never packed as much punch as they do today, especially new whole wheat and whole grain varieties from such brands as Snyder’s of Hanover, Rold Gold, Utz, Combos, Herr’s, Bachman and Anderson, among others in the top 15.
Take Utz Quality Foods’ Utz Seven Whole Grain Sticks. Part of the Hanover, Pa.-based snack producer’s new Natural & Organic line, the product is U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic and made with organic corn and oil. The pretzel sticks also fall under Utz’s “Snacking Smart” initiative, as labeled on every box and bag.
Health-conscious consumers also might be interested in Pennysticks Whole Wheat Nugget Pretzels from Benzel’s Bretzel Bakery, Altoona, Pa. The tasty tidbits might be small, but they’re loaded with flavor. Each serving contains 1 g. of fat, 0 g. of saturated fat and 0 mg. of cholesterol. A 5-oz. bag retails for $1.69.
“Breaking free from the ordinary snack category,” Benzel’s iDeserv Energy Pretzels are low in fat, contain less sodium than regular pretzels and are rich in protein and fiber. Benzel’s also offers Sourdough Broken Pretzels.
Traditional pretzels sometimes can be bland, but enhanced flavors take the twisted treat to another level. For instance, CheeZels, from C.P. Twist, LLC, Cedarburg, Wis., come in varieties such as Cheddar, jalapeño, pizza and tomato basil.
In addition, Snyder of Hanover, Hanover, Pa., offers Pretzel Sandwiches in flavors such as cheddar cheese and peanut butter.
As if that weren’t enough, snackers can spread, dip and top any of the growing number of sturdier pretzels, such as those made by the industry originator of this niche product. The Snack Factory’s Pretzel Crisps have cracker characteristics but pretzel flavor and come in Original, Garlic, Everything and a new Honey Mustard & Onion variety. The Snack Factory, Princeton, N.J., might have started this cracker-meets-pretzel trend, but now, everybody’s doing it, including some retailers’ private label brands such as Trader Joe’s.
If imitation is a form of flattery, then The Snack Factory is the most valuable player in its category.
At the Half
Although baked and often reduced-sodium and low-fat potato chips once were as tasteless as they were healthy, new products touting such descriptions have improved considerably, making them competition for fried, salty and fattier offerings.
For example, Kettle Foods, Salem, Ore., has scored plenty of times with its Kettle Bakes line of baked potato chips in varieties such as Lightly Salted, Aged White Cheddar and Hickory Honey Barbeque. Each is made from fresh slices of whole Russet potatoes and contains 65% less fat than regular potato chips. They’re also 120 calories per serving.
Meanwhile, category leader Lay’s offers its Baked! Chips in four flavors: Cheddar & Sour Cream, KC Masterpiece BBQ, Sour Cream & Onion and Original.
Additional baked chips include Eat Smart’s Baked Potato Crisps in Jalapeño & Cheddar and Zesty Ranch varieties and Pinacle Gold’s Natural Original Potato Chips.
For the scores of fans who enjoy dipping and topping, there is an array of new, sturdier crackers on the market.
Take Town House Toppers from the Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co.’s Keebler brand. The product comes in two flavors — Original and Garlic & Herb — and is designed to withstand hefty toppings, as well as heavy dips. A 13.5-oz. box sells for $4.09. Other popular Keebler offerings include Club Cracker Snack Sticks, available in Honey Wheat, Butter Herb and Original.
Meanwhile, new Roasted Vegetable Ritz crackers from Nabisco of Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., combine the brand’s signature buttery taste with savory tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, onions, parsley and carrots. A 15.5-oz. box retails for $3.39.
For consumers into the whole grain game, there’s nothing better than the classic Triscuit from Nabisco. Like the original, a serving of the brand’s newest varieties — Rosemary & Olive Oil and Roasted Garlic — offers 22 g. of whole grain — more than a slice of whole wheat bread, according to company literature. Nabisco’s signature Wheat Thins now come in new varieties, too: Parmesan & Basil, Multi-Grain and Low-Sodium.
Health is at the core of products from the Dallas-based Dr. Kracker brand, which offers flavors such as Seeded Spelt, Klassic 3 Seed, Sunflower Cheese, Seedlander and Pumpkin Cheese. Each single-serve, 100-calorie pack offers 4 g. of fiber and 5 g. of protein. A 2-oz. bag costs $1.59.
“The snack and cracker category is growing, with more and more interest in organic snacks and crackers,” says George Eckrich, director of sales and marketing for Dr. Kracker.
The SFA’s Katic confirms this trend, noting that organic “has really taken off.”
Whether eating organic, whole grain or just plain healthful, it’s a win-win situation for Super Bowl snackers.
Eat A Pita … Chip, That Is
The Kettle brand is to potato chips as pita bread is to Greek fare. But Kettle Foods, Salem, Ore., recently combined both categories with the introduction of its new Kettle brand Bakes Pita Chips.
“We’ve taken a lot of care to make a more healthful snack that can traditionally suffer from blandness to deliver robust flavor that lives up to the Kettle brand name,” noted Carolyn Richards, chief flavor architect for Kettle Foods, in a release.
Made from organic wheat flour, the chips start with authentic pita bread sprinkled with all-natural seasonings and toasted until crisp and golden brown. The trans fat-free product is made with canola oil. A single serving contains 120 calories and 3.5 g. of fat.
Flavors include Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper Pita Chips, a brother to Kettle’s Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper Potato Chips. Ideal for eating alone or topping and dipping, the innovation is are yet another example of healthier eats for snackers of all ages and demographics … we’re not just talking Greek.
Sweet, Salty Feats
It’s no secret that sweet-meets-salty is winning combination, but more — and new — gourmet brands are getting in on the action. Pretzels coated in white, dark and milk chocolate or even peanut butter or peppermint are competing in whole other ball game.
Take Angelic Gourmet Inc.’s Caramel and Toffee Crunch Decadent Dippers, 20-cm.-long stick pretzels coated in caramel and toffee crunch.
Gracious Gifts’ FunkyChunky Double Caramel Pretzel combines two caramel-dipped pretzels covered in milk and white chocolate, sprinkled with chocolate drops and drizzled in yet more chocolate.
Better-known gourmet brands such as Godiva and Long Grove Confectionary also offer these gluttonous pretzel products.
For consumers who prefer not to go — or pay for — gourmet, there are more mainstream sweet-and-salty alternatives, such as Snyder of Hanover’s Pretzel Dips — a mixture of Hanover mini pretzels and Hershey’s special Dark Chocolate – and Frito-Lay’s Rold Gold Dipped Twists, which are fudge-coated pretzels.
If It’s Healthy, It Must Taste Good
Packaged food in the health and wellness category is expected to grow 21% through 2010 versus 9% for regular packaged food. That’s part of the results of a 2006 Tate & Lyle report, which included information from Yankelovich Monitor Perspective.
Tate & Lyle also reports that 79% of consumers in the U.S. and Europe felt that food companies should develop healthier foods that taste better. Moreover, another 55% of U.S. consumers strongly agreed that they were always thinking of ways to improve their children’s diets. The study also notes that 75% of U.S. consumers prefer snacks, baked goods and other products that contain an effective mix of vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein.
Tate & Lyle recently launched its ENRICH line to create products that are packed with additional nutrients but taste as good as regular brands. For more information, visit