Twist & Shout
By Deborah Cassell

Ballroom dancing is all the rage, thanks to ABC’s hit reality TV show, “Dancing with the Stars,” which partners celebrity athletes, singers, actors — and, in this year’s case, a “charity activist and campaigner” better known for her divorce from Paul McCartney — with real ballroom champions.
While viewers no doubt enjoyed watching and learning the foxtrot, waltz, cha cha, jive, paso doble, quickstep, rumba, samba and tango, the freestyle portion of this televised competition is the pièce de résistance. Whether the final two couples are doing the butterfly, a backflip, the running man or the twist, audience members are sure to shout over the performance.
Consumers are likely shouting over the fantastic twists pretzel makers made to their products in 2007, too. This year’s introductions include all-natural, organic and low-sodium varieties of this already better-for-you snack, as well as advancements in flavors and forms, from stick to crisp.
So You Think You Can Dance?
Yesterday’s pretzels can’t possibly compete with today’s new multigrain, whole wheat, whole grain, baked and just plain healthier additions.
Case in point: Kettle Brand Bakes Pretzel Chips from Kettle Foods, Salem, Ore. Dubbed “a new twist on chips,” the product is low in fat and made with organic flour. They’re available in Fully Loaded, Honey Dijon and Original.
Likewise, Snyder’s of Hanover’s new Old Tyme Multigrain Pretzel Twists from Snyder’s of Hanover, Hanover, Pa., are made from whole grains and delicately sprinkled with salt for a rich flavor.
Meanwhile, Pennysticks bite-size Whole Wheat Nugget Pretzels from Benzel’s Bretzel Bakery, Altoona, Pa. contain just 1 g. of fat, 0 g. of saturated fat an 0 mg. cholesterol. Benzel’s iDeserv Energy Pretzels are low in both fat and sodium, too. They’re also high in protein (8 g. per serving) and fiber (4 g. per serving). One ounce contains just 100 calories — the magic number for most consumers in search of a snack.
In addition, Herr Foods’ new Herr’s Natural snack line features Sesame Whole Grain Pretzel Sticks. According to the Nottingham, Pa.-based company, the popularity of natural/organic snacks in the United States has grown by 16% over the past year.
Pretzels — Top 5 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Snyders of Hanover $213.9 +14.8 36.2 +2.6
2 Rold Gold $147.7 -2.1 25.0 -2.2
3 Private Label $70.2 +12.8 11.9 +0.7
4 Utz $30.1 +7.0 5.2 0.0
5 Combos $15.4 -16.9 2.6 -0.7
Total, including brands not shown $591.2 +6.5 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
Although it is hard to say what came first, organic products or demand for them, snack producers are scrambling to jump on the bandwagon.
For instance, Utz Seven Whole Grain Sticks, part of the Natural & Organic line from Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, Pa., are made with organic corn and oil, and certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Part of Utz’ “Snack Smart” initiative, the Natural & Organic line appeals to both traditional snacks, as well as the emerging “natural, organic” shopper, according to an Utz release.
And according to Whole Grains Council research, for the period ending March 31, 2007, there have already been 466 whole grain product introductions this year, 72 of which were snacks. No doubt many of those new items were pretzels.
Putting on a Show
When it comes to artistic flair, every dancer is different. For example, while “Stars” semifinalist Laila Ali was praised for her sex appeal, competitor Joey Fatone of ‘N Sync fame was known for his dramatic showmanship.
The same can be said of pretzels. For consumers who think they know what to expect from the traditional twisted snack, a quick newsflash: The pretzel is anything but boring. Sometimes it’s more than just a pretzel with a twist.
Take the Pretzel Crisp. The Snack Factory, Princeton, N.J., first made waves with this cracker-meets-pretzel-meets-chip product in early 2006. A single serving is low-fat and cholesterol-free and contains just 110 calories. Varieties include Original, Garlic, Everything, Honey Mustard & Onion and now, Buffalo Wing and Chipotle Cheddar flavors.
“Snackers count on us to deliver the unexpected,” says Warren Wilson, president of The Snack Factory. “Who doesn’t love the flavor of a Buffalo Wing? We took that flavor, which pairs perfectly with pretzels, and produced a low-fat snack with quite the kick.”
In addition, four of the Pretzel Crisp varieties now come in 2.5- and 5-oz. snack-size bags, while the original variety is available in a 100-calorie pack.
Pretzel Crisps are great for serving, spreading and snacking,” Wilson adds. “The new 100-calorie packs make it convenient and simple to stick a single serving in your purse, briefcase or even lunch box. Since Original-flavored Pretzel Crisps are baked and fat-free, we know snackers will be pleased by the amount of healthy, satisfying crunch in each pack.”
As if that weren’t enough, this fall, the company will add dark chocolate-enrobed Pretzel Crisps.
Yes, few things go better with pretzels than chocolate, and don’t manufacturers know it. For instance, category leader Snyder’s of Hanover offers Pretzel Dips, which feature Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate.
Meanwhile, Frito Lay, Plano, Texas, offers Rold Gold Dipped Twists — pretzels coated in fudge.
But you don’t have to use chocolate to get a salty sweet treat. Snyder’s of Hanover recently added Butter Sesame Pretzel Sticks to its premium line. Other flavors include Pumpernickel & Onion, 12 Multi Grain and Honey Wheat. In addition to tasting great, these snacks have the added benefit of being thicker than ordinary pretzels, making them ideal for dipping, the company says.
When it comes to America’s favorite ballroom dancing show — and pretzel introductions — this year, competition was tight. Next season’s stars are sure to surprise, as well. Stay tuned. SOI