Last Cracker Standing
By Anne Ford

Stand-up comedy isn’t for sissies. If you can’t coax a laugh out of the audience, you run the risk of getting heckled … or worse, as “Last Comic Standing” reveals each season. Cable comedy specials, cash prizes and, oh yeah, the admiration of the nation are at stake.
Even household-name comedians can’t rest on their laurels, as Jerry Seinfeld noted upon re-entering the stand-up world after his TV series ended.
“Just the fact [that the audience members] get to see you live in a theater is going to wear off if you’re not doing well,” he pointed out. “It all boils down to this: You’ve still got to be funny.”
And in the cracker world, well, it doesn’t matter if you’re Keebler or Nabisco — you’ve still got to bring your best to the table with one-of-a-kind (but not too weird) flavor profiles, products that appeal to the whole grain and gluten-conscious crowd, and variations of the ever-popular graham cracker.
With well over a dozen new crackers introduced to the market recently, it’s brutal out there (but still tasty).
Stand up for Grains
“We’re hearing from more and more people that they want whole grain alternatives,” says George Eckrich, director of sales and marketing for Dallas-based Dr. Kracker.
As comedian Red Skelton supposedly remarked: “Give the people what they want, and they’ll come out for it.”
Just three years old, Eckrich’s company makes seven kinds of crispy, 25-g. (.88-oz.) flatbread crackers, including “klassic” three-seed, pumpkin seed cheese, seeded spelt, sunflower cheese, muesli, graham, seedlander and veggie spelt. The most popular format so far: the bite-size Snacker Krackers, available in 8-oz. tubs. Eckrich is working to get another package size — 1-oz., 120-calorie bags — into the market.
Crackers — Top 15 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending April 22, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Kraft Nabisco Ritz $381.4 -3.4 11.2 -1.1
2 Sunshine Cheez-It $361.1 +6.2 10.6 0.0
3 Kraft Nabisco Wheat Thins $313.9 +6.5 9.2 +0.1
4 Pepperidge Farm Goldfish $304.0 +16.0 8.9 +0.8
5 Kraft Nabisco Triscuit $229.7 +9.3 6.7 +0.2
6 Private Label $224.5 +3.6 6.6 -0.2
7 Kraft Nabisco Premium $208.9 +2.3 6.1 -0.2
8 Kraft Nabisco Grahams $151.9 +6.0 4.4 0.0
9 Keebler Club $141.2 +8.4 4.1 +0.1
10 Keebler Town House $96.3 +23.8 2.8 +0.4
11 Kraft Nabisco Toasted Chips $88.8 +20.5 2.6 +0.3
12 Lance Sandwich Crackers $78.4 +11.9 2.3 +0.1
13 Kraft Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs $51.0 +14.5 1.5 0.1
14 Keebler Zesta $46.9 -6.9 1.4 -0.2
15 Carr’s $45.9 +6.4 1.3 0.0
Total, including brands not shown $3,419.3 +5.8 100.00  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
In addition, Dr. Kracker just introduced Klassic Snack Flats, soup crackers available in classic, seeded spelt and pumpkin cheese.
“My goal is to have it in every soup and salad bar in the U.S. at some point,” Eckrich says. The spelt version, in particular, is “a good alternative for people that suffer from wheat sensitivity issues,” he adds.
Another young, small company that caters to the wheat-sensitive or -allergic consumer: the two-and-a-half-year-old Mary’s Gone Crackers, a Gridley, Calif.-based operation that produces only organic, whole grain, gluten-free crackers.
“We like to focus on the fact that our cracker is a gourmet cracker that happens to be gluten-free,” says founder Mary Waldner. “We’re the fastest-selling cracker in the country in the natural crackers market. It’s been an incredibly quick rise.”
The Mary’s Gone Crackers line includes original, black pepper, caraway, herb and onion. Waldner is working on a new flavor, but — like a comic guarding her latest material — she will say only that it will feature “a different seed profile and different spices.”
Last fall saw the launch of grainsfirst brand whole grain crackers from Canadian company Dare Foods, Kitchener, Ont. The two grainsfirst varieties are Spring Harvest, which uses soy and sunflower seeds, and Autumn Harvest, a heartier cracker that incorporates black sesame and poppy seeds. Each five-cracker serving has 2 to 3 g. of fiber.
Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., added Blazin’ Buffalo Wing Flavor Blasted Goldfish crackers to heat up its line. It also came out with Goldfish Starfish crackers as a part of the brand’s partnership with the City Year Organization. The group organizes youth-based programs such as the Starfish project to promote the concept of national service.
The company notes that linking the brand’s 100 Calorie Packs, single-serve packs and the sunglass-toting Fin and Friends combines portion control with personality, and that’s a winning combination. Not surprisingly, the company reports that sales of the Goldfish brand have been climbing at a double-digit rate.
Goldfish crackers have been growing well because they offer a terrific bundle of benefits to consumers,” says Pat Callaghan, president of Pepperidge Farm. “They’re a wholesome, fun, convenient, delicious snack that kids love to eat and moms love to serve. What could be better than that?”
 Maybe, having a party? Beginning this month, Kashi, La Jolla, Calif., will supply the TLC All-Natural Party Crackers (but you’ll have to bring your own balloons). Each of the three varieties — Stoneground 7 Grain, Mediterranean Bruschetta, and Roasted Garlic and Theme — provides 8 g. of whole grains and 3 g. of fiber.
Lest the smaller companies make off with all the whole-grain applause, in January, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., launched All-Bran Crackers in multigrain and garlic herb. The bite-size crackers are packaged in 10-oz. boxes that retail for $2.99 in grocery stores nationwide. Also new from Kellogg: Keebler Club Puffed Multi-Grain Vrackers (also available in original) in 9-oz., $3.59 boxes.
So which crackers will be the last ones standing? There are so many from which to choose, the joke’s really on the consumer making that decision. SOI
Editor’s Note: Dan Malovany contributed to this report.
Spotlight on Grahams
If you compare the cracker-and-cookie aisle to the comedy world, graham crackers are the crossover artists. Are they cookies? Well, they’re not not cookies. Are they crackers? Well, sort of. With all the tasty options, maybe it’s best to just hush up and eat your honey grahams:
• Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods’ Nabisco’s Honey Maid Grahams Honey Bees were introduced in February, and feature bee-shaped grahams in a 16-oz. box. Each 15-cracker serving contains 8 g. of whole grain.
• Nabisco’s Mini Teddy Grahams Cinnamon Cubs bring the popular 100-calorie format to the children’s cracker/cookie market.
• Dallas-based Dr. Kracker launched Dr. Kracker’s Krispy Graham Kribbons about a year ago. A 5-oz. serving offers 3 g. of fiber.
Applaud Fresh Flavors
What’s the difference between a cracker and a comedian? Nobody likes a cheesy comedian.
Okay, that was a cheap shot. But in the cracker market, it’s hard to overestimate what the American Dairy Association likes to call “The Power of Cheese.” Or, for that matter, the power of veggies, although fruit-and-vegetable organizations don’t seem to be throwing that phrase around just yet.
Cheddar and White Cheddar Sunshine Cheez-It Stix from Kellogg Co. came on the scene in January and contain 0 g. of trans fat. The 9.5-oz. boxes hold about nine 35-stick servings.
As Kraft Foods’ Nabisco brand notes, Wheat Thins Toasted Chips Parmesan and Asiago Cheese (launched in March) have 60% less fat than regular potato chips. They’re also a precursor of sorts to another, forthcoming Nabisco product, Garden Harvest Toasted Chips, expected in stores this August.
Already available from Nabisco is the latest addition to a Triscuit lineup that uses olive oil’s healthy halo to appeal to snackers. Triscuit Fire Roasted and Olive Oil Wheat crackers join Rosemary & Olive Oil and Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil varieties. All sell in 9.5-oz. boxes and feature a respectable 3 g. of fiber per 10-cracker serving.
Meanwhile, Kashi, which is owned by Kellogg, is holding its own with new Fire Roasted Vegetable TLC snack crackers, flavored with red and green peppers, carrots, onions and tomato.
Please, hold your applause.
New Routine for Sweet Crackers?
Things in the cookie and cracker aisle seem to be getting a little cozy. How else can you explain the new breed of dessert-like crackers that stray from the familiar graham cracker world?
If you don’t believe us, check out what George Eckrich, director of sales and marketing for Dallas-based Dr. Kracker, is developing. He’s working on a chocolate-covered version of the company’s classic cracker that he hopes to have available by Valentine’s Day.
“You get a real nice mix of texture and then also the underlying notes of the caramelization that takes place in the crust of the cracker,” he notes. “And that blends in real well with the chocolate.”
If it takes three products to make a trend, this dessert-cracker format is two-thirds of the way there. In March, Nabisco introduced Wheat Thins Lightly Cinnamon crackers in a 9.5-oz. box for $3.19.