overview_snack_bodyToday’s snacks don’t need to don fancy costumes or hide behind magical face paint to garner attention. They also don’t require stunts, tricks or fictional characters parading around the plaza.

That’s because many snacks maintain authenticity, originality, innovation and pizzazz. They are themselves, showing off their tried-and-true attributes, complete with hot and savory flavorings, convenient and easy-open packaging concepts and are on a mission to provide consumers the tastiest, yet healthiest snacks possible.

Whether it’s a beef jerky stick laden with hot spices, crackers that put the fun in functional, chips that feature a bevy of shapes, sizes and textures, pretzels that garner a new twist or those hybrid items that don’t yet seem to have a specific home on the shelf, the snack aisles are sure to be set ablaze with fun-filled options.

Figures don’t lie
According to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group, the salty snack arena remains the highest grossing segment in the snack industry, with $13 billion in 2010. Categories such as potato chips, tortilla/tostada chips and cheese snacks garnered a majority of the winnings, raking in $4.8, $3 and $1.2 billion, respectively.
The cracker category roped in $4.4 billion in sales, with all other crackers (excluding breadsticks, graham crackers, matzah, saltines and those with fillings) accounting for $3.1 billion in sales.

Snack nuts experienced $2.7 billion in sales while dried meat snacks saw $1.3 billion. Miscellaneous snacks, such as apple chips, carob-, yogurt- and chocolate-covered snacks, nutritional snacks and trail mix took in $606.8 million in sales.

“[The snack category] is a great place to be,” says Jeff LeFever, director of marketing for Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Minong, Wis. “The trend toward snacking as a behavior is only getting stronger. If the industry listens to consumers and stays ahead of changing wants and needs, the future is going to be very, very bright.”
Trends such as better-for-you, unique flavor combinations, spicy and ethnic flavors and all-natural top the charts, says Steve Sklar, senior vice president of marketing for Inventure Foods, Phoenix, Ariz.

To stay on trend, in July 2010, Inventure Foods debuted Boulder Canyon brand Hummus & Sesame chips, which are lightly salted with hummus and sesame seeds and are a good source of fiber.

Inventure Foods also expanded its TGI Friday’s line of snack items to include Jalapeño Cheddar Crunchy Cheddar Bites. These zero-trans-fat snacks blend jalapeño spices and cheddar cheese to deliver crunch and spice in every bite.

Also hopping on the hummus ride is Houston-based Simply 7 Snacks, which in February introduced hummus- and lentil-flavored chips. The hummus chips come in Sea Salt, Tomato Basil and Spice Chili Pepper options, while the lentil ones are available in Sea Salt, Bruschetta and Creamy Dill.

“Our products match up well with the trend toward more ethnic and Mediterranean foods, especially the growing interest in hummus among American consumers,” says Paul Albrecht, brand manager. “The very introduction of our products is a competition in a new category. The salted snack arena is dominated by potato chips, and while there has been great innovation in the methods to process and cook potatoes, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation away from potatoes in different ingredients. We are trying to challenge the potato chip dominance by offering a better-for-you alternative made from unique ingredients. Hummus chips and lentil chips are creating a brand new category within the salty snack aisle.”

For companies such as FunkyChunky, Inc., St. Edina, Minn., finding just one snack arena to participate in isn’t good enough. That’s why it nixed the traditional segments and blended sweet with salty to create the ultimate party of snacks.

FunkyChunky’s newest creation, Chip-Zel-Pop, blends crisp potato chips, crunchy pretzel sticks and buttery caramel corn and with caramel and milk, white and dark chocolate drizzles. This fun-filled snack attack is hand-crafted in small, made-to-order batches, is OU-dairy certified kosher and comes in 8- and 20-oz. canisters.

“The salty/sweet combination continues to be a big hit in our business mix,” says Ronni Feuer, founder of FunkyChunky.

While some consumers are craving for the sweet and salty mix, others are opting for a more baked version. Case in point: Last year, Snikiddy, LLC received so much positive feedback from its Snikiddy Baked Fries that it added Barbeque and Sea Salt Baked Fries to the mix.

“Americans love their French fries, but not necessarily the guilt that comes with eating them,” says Mary Schulman, cofounder and vice president of marketing of the Boulder, Colo.-based snack producer. “Now they can fulfill their craving with a healthy version of fries. These two new flavors are our first dairy-free/vegan options.”

In May, MARS Chocolate North America, Hackettstown, N.J., expanded its Combos team of baked snacks to include a Buffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel variety. “This new flavor features the zesty combination of Buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese surrounded by a crunchy pretzel exterior,” says Tim Quinn, vice president of trade development. “This cheesy, crunchy snack is made with real cheese and is oven baked to create a hearty snack that satisfies hunger.”

Late last year, MARS also introduced revamped the packaging, complete with brighter colors and eye-catching graphics that add “hunger appeal” to each bite. “Each bag includes a photo of the food representing the Combos snack flavor?from a slice of mouth-watering pizza to a bowl of zesty salsa,” Quinn adds.

Furthermore, Crips Snacks, based in Derbyshire, London, created Crips 99Cals, which are crunchy, oven-baked wheat and potato snacks that offer 70% less fat than traditional fried potato chips and deliver just 99 calories per pack. They come in Thai Sweet Chilli, Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar and Mature Cheddar Spring & Spring Onion varieties in 0.79-oz. bags.

“The new packs are designed to offer something low in calories and fat, but without sacrificing the crunch, taste and eating experience of more traditional snacks,” says Gareth Smith, managing director.

The fruits of the carnival
Whether it’s fun in the sun or a lounge in the shade, sometimes even the healthiest snacks don’t curb that sweet tooth. That’s why some snack manufacturers turned to fruit to liven up their portfolio and offer consumers something sweet, healthy and tasty in a fruit-filled way.

For instance, Peeled Snacks added organic Cherry-go-round to its Fruit Picks line of grab-and-go snacks. These gluten-, dairy- and wheat-free snacks are sourced from all-natural cherries picked from small farms and deliver fiber and vitamin C. “We source organic ingredients whenever possible, and we are dedicated to providing the healthiest snacks possible for a market of consumers demanding nourishing and tasty snacks,” says Noha Waibsnaider, chief executive officer of the Brooklyn, N.Y., company.

Meanwhile, Healthient, Inc., Jupiter, Fla., debuted Crispy Fruit, a line of freeze-dried fruit snacks that are made from 100% fruit and contain no added sugar, preservatives, fat or cholesterol. This on-the-go snack comes in a 20-serving, 0.35-oz. variety pack of Pineapple, Banana and Fuji Apple varieties, which dole out 34, 61 and 47 calories, respectively.

The 100-calorie FruitziO product line, produced by Crispy Green Inc., Fairfield, N.J., now includes freeze-dried kiwi options. Made with the finest freeze-dried kiwi fruit slices and a hint of pure cane sugar, this snack delivers a sweet and tart taste.

And once the ride is over?
As with any seasonal festivity, once the ride is over, the carnival packs up and leaves town until next year. However, the snack industry is here to stay year-round.
“The snack food industry is growing every day,” Albrecht says. “New innovations, creativity and variety in snacks and brands continue to appear in rapid succession. We try to stay at the forefront of this activity and create products that no one has seen before while sticking to our core values of a simpler, healthier snack.”

That’s why brands must continue to provide quality ingredients with flavors consumers love, Quinn adds. “The key to producing a fun-filled product is continuing to answer consumers’ taste for great flavors that are on-trend,” he notes. “There is tremendous opportunity in anticipating consumer trends and responding to them in a nimble manner. We have found that ‘getting closer to our consumers’ offers the greatest opportunities for growth. And in challenging economic times, offering value to the consumer is another enduring opportunity.”

From chips to pretzels to beef jerky and nuts, today’s snacks don’t need any fancy gimmicks to woo consumers—they just need to be their fun-filled, better-for-you selves.