chips_bodyMost of the stories about potato chips involve their invention pegged around 1853 by a cook named George Crum, who resided somewhere along the East Coast (many websites reference New York). The stories involve Crum’s fried potatoes being returned to the kitchen because they weren’t crunchy enough, so he ended up dumping the slices into hot grease and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s obvious that potato chips are evolving and will continue to do so for many generations to come, with new yet familiar tastes, spicy flavorings and premium ingredients. Healthier, less “bad-for-you” options are already surfacing.

In these difficult times, as Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group’s research indicates, consumers may not be snacking as much as they have in the past, still troubled with the economy and rising food prices. About 42% of the consumers surveyed by SymphonyIRI said they are spending less right now on snacks overall, while 30% are trying to make snacks last longer and are snacking less frequently. Another 25% are eliminating impulse snack purchases at the supermarket.

Snack manufacturers are feeling the pinch, too. The Snack Food Association, Arlington, Va., reports that more than 40 snack food executives met with members of Congress and key staff members in May, asking for help with soaring commodity costs as part of the association’s 2011 Legislative Summit.

Yet the potato chips sector grew 22%, claims a new report from Mintel, which also says that smaller segments like popcorn and cheese snacks showed the growth of 17% and 20%, respectively.

“People bought more chips during the recession because they’re a good value,” says Chris Haack, senior analyst at Mintel, Chicago. “As the economy gets stronger, we expect annual sales increases to slow, but we don’t expect markets to contract. New product innovations and the changed eating habits of many Americans will keep shoppers headed towards the snack aisle.”

In that regard, Natural Snacks, LLC, Addison, Ill., sees big demand for low salt/sodium and all-natural ingredients. “Consumers are more likely to purchase a better-for-you snack than junk food,” says Christine Brown, director of marketing. “Also, the way snacks are being processed is changing, from fried to baked to popped. We’re leveraging these trends with new products such as our line of kettle-cooked potato chips, which are reduced fat, low sodium and with the majority of them having zero g. of sugars.”

The cooked chips contain 40% less fat, she says. They are available in Lightly Salted, Unsalted, Honey BBQ, Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar and Jalapeño varieties. Launched in March, they come in a single-serve 2-oz. bag, as well as in 5-oz. bags that sell for $1.19 and $2.99, respectively.

Natural Snacks’ products are made with all-natural ingredients and no preservatives, artificial colorings, artificial flavorings, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, wheat or gluten, Brown points out. “Consumers are looking for quality food without cutting corners for the best price. They are also looking for snacks that will minimize health conditions or manage health issues, such as low sodium, low sugars and low fat,” she says. “They want a benefit factor: Snacks that add protein/fiber/antioxidants. Our focus is to meet that demand. The numbers we are receiving indicate that organic snacks are experiencing 8% growth versus natural snacks, which are seeing 7% growth.”

Brown adds that Natural Snacks is expanding into local markets and also into the vending arena. “Our 100-calorie products meet the educational nutritional guidelines and our vending partners are growing in the ‘healthy vending’ category,” she adds.

Thus, the meager chip isn’t so meager any more. Snacks are moving toward healthier, often all-natural ingredients and away from indulgence. Both the healthier and the all-natural segments are growing, Brown says. “Consumers will also shop price before brand, so you need to give them all of that.”

Other projects Natural Snacks is working on include an aggressive search for compostable packaging. The company also started to see retailers minimize their private-label stock. “You respond to that by keeping pricing competitive, without compromising the quality of the product or the brand,” says Brown. “We are seeing nutrition keys on the front of packages. So, starting with our new kettle-cooked ripple potato chips, we are also adding this benefit to our packaging. It’s easier for consumers to see what the nutritional facts are.”

Major milestones
Chip companies such as Utz Snack Foods, Hanover, Pa., are celebrating quite a bit of longevity these days. Utz, for example, reached its 90th anniversary and marked the occasion with commemorative 90-cent chip bags. The company has been a fixture in Hanover, starting when Bill and Salie Utz began making kettle chips in their kitchen. Now, Utz employs more than 2,200 people, has four manufacturing plants and produces a full line of snacks.

“We’re hoping to spur some interest with the 90-cent bags, let people know we’re here and still successful,” says Tom Dempsey, president. Each week, Utz produces more than 1 million lb. of potato chips. “Number one, you can’t do it without luck and No. 2, you need vision,” says Dempsey. “The Utz Rice family has brought vision, and we took advantage of expansion, so we’re probably the biggest regional snack company or at least close to it in the potato chip perspective.”
“Consumers are looking for food that is all-natural,” adds Utz’ Alec Sivel, vice president of marketing. “More than 50% of Utz’s snack line is all-natural, and has been from the start. These snacks are made with only the finest quality products, with no preservatives, monosodium glutamate, artificial flavors or additives. All-natural doesn’t only apply to Utz non-seasoned items—many of our seasoned items such as BBQ Chips, Smokin’ Sweet Kettle Classics Chips, Cheddar Cheese Sunflower Chips, Butter and White Cheddar Popcorn, Sweet Chili and Salsa Fresca Rice Crisps are all-natural. Our best selling item, Regular potato chips, is not only all-natural, but contains the lowest sodium levels in the industry…another emerging consumer trend.”

Other trends Sivel sees include the growth in functional foods. “Foods that can provide extra nutritional ingredients such as whole grains, fiber and calcium,” she says. “If competitive items seem comparable on all fronts (price, weight, etc.), but one item offers an added nutritional benefit, then it’s our opinion that the consumer will more often than not choose the one with the added nutritional benefit.”

But the hottest trend right now is the huge interest in healthier foods. “Healthy has morphed from low fat, low calories to all-natural and fortified,” she says. “’Better-for-you’ no longer means snacks that help you watch your weight; it now represents foods that can provide nutritional benefits as well.

Meanwhile, Herr Foods, Inc., Nottingham, Pa., toasted its 65th year of producing various snacks such as potato chips, pretzels, tortilla chips, cheese curls and pork rinds. And there are countless other chipmakers celebrating milestones with new chips in snazzy jalapeño and chili flavors, sophisticated balsamic vinegar and sea salt versions and new cues on barbecue, which is as popular as ever. But barbecue is now even morphing into hickory or honey barbecue and more.
For example, Herr’s joined forces with T.W. Garner Food Co., the Winston-Salem, N.C., maker of Texas Pete to bring Texas Pete hot sauce chips to the Herr’s lineup. “This new flavor of Herr’s chips is guaranteed to be one hot item,” says Ed Herr, president. “Hot sauce lovers, your chip has come in.”

Seasonings to savor
Shearer’s Foods, Inc., Brewster, Ohio, launched chips with 0 g. trans-fat under its Shearer’s line. Available in Classic, Rippled, Barbeque and Sour Cream & Onion options, the chips are made with 100% premium high-oleic canola oil.

“’Better-for-you’ products that also taste great is an emerging trend,” reports Jeff Binczyk, vice president of marketing for Shearer’s Foods. “Consumers want their healthy foods, but they aren’t willing to give up taste.”

Binczyk says a hot trend is the ability and willingness for consumers to try new seasonings and flavors. “Food is very dynamic right now, with consumers viewing shows on the Food Network, for instance, that are romancing food and driving experimentation.”

Shearer’s Rippled Home Run Hot Dog potato chips, which in May starred on Food Network’s Unwrapped series, maintain a classic take on American food. The chips, packed in 11-oz. bags, are loaded with the classic hot dog flavor of plump, juicy wieners smothered with mustard and relish. The seasoning was developed by a Shearer’s product development team along with its seasoning suppliers to ensure the flavors are perfectly balanced. The seasoning is placed on a special v-cut potato chip, which results in a more intense flavor experience. Creating a cult-like following, the Rippled Home Run Hot Dog chips are available at grocery and convenience stores in Ohio and surrounding states, as well as through Shearer’s online store at

In addition, on April 1, Shearer’s launched wild riceworks, a crisp extension of its successful riceworks brand. Wild riceworks is a hybrid between a chip and a cracker. Available in Sea Salt and Black Sesame Seeds, they are all-natural, gluten-free and provide a good source of fiber.

Black sesame seeds are also a hot new trend. That’s why on May 1, Shearer’s launched four new varieties (Original; Rippled; Barbeque; and Sour Cream and Onion) that have 0 g. of trans-fat and are cooked in canola oil.

Binczyk says that in this economy, consumers want and love to snack. “We operate in a competitive category, with lots of price promotion and new item activity. As far as organic versions are concerned, our portfolio of these products is quite limited,” he says. “The snack category is very impulse-driven, so features and displays drive high lifts for our products. Space is limited for these types of vehicles, however, so we need to be fact-based in gaining this type of real estate in a retail store.”

Shearer’s makes both branded and private-label products, so he knows there’s a place for both types of product at the supermarket. “Both products need to provide differentiation and be of high quality for this to work,” Binczyk adds.

[Editor’s update: Shearer’s recently opened a plant in Massillon, Ohio, which is the world’s first LEED Platinum snack manufacturing facility. The company is in the process of rolling out a second phase of the plant, as well as communicating the benefits of a sustainable manufacturing facility to consumers.]

“We now have national distribution, with multiple plants across the United States,” Binczyk points out. “Filling in those geographic distribution gaps is a focus for us right now.”

Kettle chips go Hawaiian and then some
As many chipmakers attest, exotic flavors are a popular trend this summer, and one indication is Hawaiian-brand kettle-style potato chips and snack rings, which became available nationally this spring from Pinnacle Foods, Mountain Lakes, N.J. The line offers four exotic and unique options, including Original, Luau BBQ, Sweet Maui Onion and Wasabi.

Having a loyal following on the West Coast, the Hawaiian brand brings something unique to the supermarket, says Terri Barberi, brand development manager in the specialty foods division of Pinnacle. With the tagline, “Lolo ‘Ono,” which translates to “crazy delicious,” Hawaiian kettle-style potato chips use a traditional Polynesian recipe that originated the chips. Hawaiian kettle-style potato chips and snack rings are recognized not only for superior taste and quality, but also for the artistic, colorful, tropical artwork that appears on the packaging.

“We are delighted to bring a taste of the islands to the rest of the country to expand people’s taste horizons,” says Barberi. “The distinctive flavor profiles, crunchy texture and unique packaging all combine to offer consumers a product that is above comparison, and we know they’ll love it.”

Hawaiian kettle-style potato chips come in 2-, 8-, 16- and 32-oz. bags and sell for $2.99-$3.49. They are distributed by Tim’s Cascade Snacks, Algona, Wash., and Snyder of Berlin, Berlin, Pa.

Familiar flavors from elsewhere
Speaking of Snyder of Berlin, its Open Pit barbeque- and Vlasic dill pickle-flavored potato chips are its latest product entries. The Open Pit variety captures the flavor of the famous bottled barbeque sauce while the Vlasic dill pickle has a tart, pickle taste but with a crisp crunch. The 9.5-oz. bags sell regionally at a suggested retail price of $3.49.

The company also tapped into the low-sodium market with Low Sodium BAR-B-Q flavored potato chips, which deliver 50% less sodium than its regular chips. That’s good news because with less sodium, an interesting thing happens, says Snyder of Berlin. The sweetness of BAR-B-Q starts to sing just that much more. The richness of the other savory spices comes forward, so while consumers might think they’re giving up the extra salt, they’ll have just as much BAR-B-Q, according to the company.

Soon, consumers will have one more reason to love a can of Pringles. Diamond Foods, San Francisco, the company that acquired the Pringles brand from Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, will be giving away free speaker devices that fit on the top of any Pringles can to amplify sound when attached to an MP3 player or similar music device, the company says.

Now through October, consumers can send in the original receipt from any four Super Stack cans to receive the speaker device by mail. “Pringles is about unexpected fun and good times,” says Kristin Herrmann-Ratz, Pringles brand manager. “The new Pringles speaker is just one more way to make good times even better, wherever you are.” Specially marked Pringles speaker design cans are now available in Original, Cheddar Cheese and Sour Cream & Onion kinds. All Super Stack flavor purchases qualify to receive speakers.

Making that bold statement
Like many of the trends seen lately, Diamond Foods’ Kettle Brand also is making a bold flavor statement with Zesty Ranch, which scores a full-flavored win on the snack loop-de-loop. Its Zesty Ranch Krinkle Cut line’s new All Natural potato chip option is made with only all-natural ingredients and features a creamy ranch flavor on a crunchy, thick potato chip, with natural onion and black pepper blended with tangy sour cream and savory herbs.

“It’s not your typical ranch experience,” notes Carolyn Richards, chief flavor architect. “Zesty Ranch is savory with a peppery kick, followed by lightly tangy sour cream layered on the ultimate crunchy chip. This is ranch done right.”

With the carnival of flavors and chip types to munch on, consumers should never get bored. Today, they have so many choices, interesting new ingredients and health benefit options in potato chips, that they should have a fun-filled, snack-filled summer.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about these and other new potato chips, go to and check out our online new products section.