Twist of Fate

By Lynn Petrak

As the pretzel category turns, new innovations continue to provide the drama that keeps health-conscious consumers tuned into the latest developments on the shelf.

Sometimes the food industry can be like a soap opera. Lead characters, like consumers, find themselves caught between their true desires and their needs. They are haunted by events from their past. When these skeletons in the closet are uncovered, they wreak change, like the return of concerns about cholesterol, sodium, fat and calories today. Then there are the sly competitors looking to put one over on the perceived hero.
Oh, how the world twists and turns.
The top 10 - Pretzel Brands
(For the latest 52 weeks ending Jan. 27, 2008)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales Dollar Sales % Change vs. Previous Year Dollar Share Dollar Sales Changevs. Previous Year
1. Snyder's of Hanover $230.7 +5.9 37.7 +1.8
2. Rold Gold $133.6 -11.8 21.6 -3.2
3. Private Label $77.2 +7.2 12.6 +0.7
4. Utz $35.3 +7.1 5.8 +0.3
5. Combos $17.0 -3.8 4.8 -0.1
6. Herr's $15.1 +5.0 2.5 +0.1
7. Bachman $13.5 +7.0 2.2 +0.1
8. Old Dutch $8.3 +25.1 1.4 +0.3
9. Nabisco Mr. Salty $8.1 -9.6 1.2 -0.2
10. Anderson $7.8 -18.9 1.3 -0.3
Total: $612.0 +0.9 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)

If there is drama in the food manufacturing world, the pretzel category is certainly part of the plot. Within this category, traditional fan favorites must contend with beguiling newcomers, while good looks, at least in terms of format and packaging, can make a difference. Even the inevitable long-lost twin is evident in today’s pretzel category, by way of innovative product pairings and co-branding.
On the big screen known as the snack aisle, the pretzel category continues to perform well. According to Chicago-based Information Resources, Inc., sales of packaged pretzels reached more than $612 million in the past year, up slightly from the previous year.
Americans bite into their fare share of pretzels. Annual consumption in Reading, Penn., the proclaimed “Pretzel Capital of the World,” represents the peak, at about 9 lb. per person. Of course, it all depends where a person lives. Chicagoans, for instance, scarf down an average 6 lb. per person, while the figure for New Yorkers is about 4 lb. per capita.
Delving into the category a bit more, traditional varieties of pretzels continue to dominate sales. According to IRI, Hanover, Penn.-based Snyder’s of Hanover leads the pack in branded sales, followed by Frito-Lay’s Rold Gold, private label, Utz, Combos and Herr’s.
As with any daytime serial, there is a twist to the pretzel category, in the form of a slew of new products. Take, for instance, the new multigrain pretzel from Snyder’s of Hanover, which notched more than $3.8 million last year for a quintuple percentage jump in sales. Now that’s a new star on the rise.
Grainy Footage
Snyder’s of Hanover’s foray into multigrain pretzels exemplifies the powerful role that health and wellness continues to play in the American diet. According to Claude O’Connor, vice president of marketing for Snyder’s of Hanover, pretzels and whole grains are natural partners that play off each other nicely.
“The multigrain is a flavor promise,  and a health promise as well, because we have the fiber claim — a 3 g. serving qualifies for a good source of fiber,” he says. “Also, they are all low or no fat to begin with.”
 Indicative of the parallel demands for better-for-you attributes and flavor, Snyder’s of Hanover offers several varieties of multigrain pretzels, including Old Tyme Twist, Lightly Salted Pretzel Sticks and Honey Mustard & Onion Nibblers.
Pretzels pumped up with more grain are becoming part of the cast for many manufacturers. For example, Herr Foods of Nottingham, Penn., recently extended its line of whole grain and multigrain pretzels due to strong consumer response.
“We have added a Honey Wheat, Pumpernickel and Onion-Herb,” reports Daryl Thomas, senior vice president of sales and marketing. He concurs that multigrain pretzels deliver on the health and satisfaction benefit, because pretzels are inherently a low-fat snack with a lot of flavor.
Also tying into contemporary dietary trends is consumer interest in portion control, a movement that spurred the development of 100-calorie snack packs. The Snack Factory and Snyder’s of Hanover, among others, offer such packages.
“We’ve continued also to push our 100-calorie line, and they are doing very well,” O’Connor says. “It seems to have adult appeal and is popular for kids’ lunches, too.”
To keep up with the latest trends, several food companies have rolled out organic snacks. For instance, Purity Food, Inc., Okemos, Mich., sells organic sourdough Pretzels under the Vita-Spelt brand that are trans fat-free and contain no barley malt. The product is certified organic by Quality Assurance International.
Likewise, Newman’s Own Organics, Inc., offers organic pretzels. Made with organic wheat flour and organic sunflower oil, the products distributed by the Aptos, Ca.-based business are certified by Oregon Tilth.
Bold Plots
Pretzel makers are injecting drama into everyday snacking habits in other ways, namely through more seasoned flavor profiles.
Although traditional salted varieties and more venerable flavors like honey mustard remain big sellers, pretzels with a bit of zip are now part of many company portfolios and carving out a respective niche.
“Our Hot Buffalo Wing continues to be our fastest-growing pretzel, and we are looking at additional bold and zesty,” O’Connor notes.
Snyder’s of Hanover also markets its Pretzel Pieces line in flavors such as Buttermilk Ranch, Jalapeño, Steakhouse Onion and Garlic Bread, he adds.
Likewise, The Snack Factory, Princeton, N.J., reports a loyal following for its spicy pretzels.
“You can’t lack flavor, and our Buffalo Wing flavor gives that zesty taste with 100 calories per serving,” says spokesperson Stephanie Rogers of the product that was launched last year.
Rold Gold, the pretzel brand from Plano, Texas-headquartered Frito-Lay, is ratcheting up seasonings, as well. In addition to best-selling varieties like classic sticks, thins, braided twists and rods, Frito-Lay recently added Parmesan Garlic Flavored Pretzel Snacks and Garlic Braided Twists to its Rold Gold line.
Sweet Things
The ingénue of the flavored pretzel segment is, indeed, something sweet. The Rold Gold brand, for example, includes dessert-inspired Cinnamon Braided Twists and Dark Chocolate Drizzled Flavored pretzels.
Chocoholics also can hone in on other indulgent pretzel varieties. Last summer, The Snack Factory rolled out new chocolate covered pretzel crisps, while Pretzel Flipz from Stamford, Conn.-based DeMet’s Candy Co. now includes chocolate-and white fudge-covered pretzels, as well as new Sugar Free Chocolatey Covered Pretzels and Sugar Free White Fudge Covered Pretzels.
Another emerging pairing that borrows a bit from the healthy-indulgent segment of the food industry is the combination of pretzels and yogurt. Rold Gold now markets Vanilla Yogurt Drizzle pretzel snacks, while the Flipz brand includes Chocolate Swirl Yogurt Covered Pretzels and Strawberry Swirl Yogurt Covered Pretzels.
Format Change
Combining pretzels and yogurt reflects the fusion of different products among salted snacks.
Take the melding of pretzels and crackers. In January, Snyder’s of Hanover launched Pretzel Crackers in Original, Lightly Salted, Butter Sesame, and Pumpernickel and Onion flavors.
“These are authentic crackers, in the sense that the thickness lends itself to sandwiching or dipping, but they are also terrific as eat-alone or stand-alone snacks,” says O’Connor, noting that the product required new equipment and production methods. “It’s all new technology, because it is all sheeted instead of extruded. It takes us into a whole new realm.”
The reason for the expansion, O’Connor says, was due to continued consumer clamor for convenient, flavorful snacks that fit into a balanced diet.
“We hadn’t seen new, exciting things on the cracker side, and compared to traditional crackers, these are lower in fat and are true pretzels in that that they have that nice golden brown color after baking,” he explains.
Likewise, The Snack Factory tinkered with the traditional pretzel recipe for its Pretzel Crisp line.
“It’s not your typical pretzel,” says Rogers of the company’s patented process. “This brings the pretzel into a new domain — as more of a cracker — ready to be used in entertaining,” Rogers says.
There is another twin analogy in today’s pretzel market with the recent rollout of Keebler Town House Flipsides by Kellogg’s snack division. Featuring a cracker on one side and a pretzel on another, Flipsides were introduced in January in Original and Cheddar.
“Pretzels and crackers are two great snacks to serve when entertaining,” said Raj Joshi, senior director of Kellogg Co., at the time of the launch. “However, pretzels are hard to top, and crackers do not have the taste that pretzel lovers enjoy. Town House Flipsides address both needs.”
Sweet Endings
Just as soap opera sagas have open endings, the future of the pretzel category is somewhat of a cliffhanger.
One of the latest trends in the ice cream category, for example, is the pairing of ice cream with pretzels, as evidenced by a new Klondike Carmel Pretzel ice cream bar and a new Chocolate Pretzel scoop ice cream from Turkey Hill.
At Herr’s, Thomas agrees that there are opportunities for pretzels to be used in ingredients — in and well beyond ice cream.
“I think pretzels are as vibrant of a category there is, and they give you a lot of latitude with sizes, textures, tastes and shapes,” he says. “I think you will see more co-branding, with established products coming together in marketing. There could be co-branding with ice cream, toppings, and other products.” SF&WB