These days, pretzels aren’t just your average bar snack. Manufacturers are producing their savory snacks with a bit of a twist, reaching the consumers who crave bolder flavors, a better-for-you snack or an innovative accompaniment to an everyday meal.

“Pretzels are a $752-million category within the food channel,” says Jeff Binczyk, vice president of marketing and shopper insights for Shearer’s Foods. “Regular or original salted pretzels represent more than 50% of total sales.”

The Brewster, Ohio-based company specializes in the original snack producing standard favorites such as Pretzel Thins, Pretzel Minis, Pretzel Sticks and Pretzel Rods. For something a little more gourmet, the company also offers Honey Wheat and Butter Braided pretzels.

A great pretzel is every manufacturer’s goal, but putting a new twist on an old classic is more difficult to achieve.

“You have the unhealthy end of the spectrum that is showing a lot of growth with products such as chocolate-covered pretzels and season-coated pretzel pieces,” says Justin Spannuth, COO of Unique Pretzel Bakery, Inc. “You also have the other end of the spectrum showing nice growth with products being organic and having higher content of whole grains. But as always, the consumer is just looking for something different that tastes better than what they currently buy.”

The Reading, Pa.-based company offers Pretzel Shells, arguing that the crunchy, salty exterior of the pretzel is the best part. The company uses a split-open baking process to make its hollow pretzels.

“Our new Pretzel Shells are, what we feel, the best tasting pretzel on the market,” says Spannuth. “They are also small enough to grab by the handful for kids, teens and on-the-go consumers.”

Not ignoring the health market, Unique Pretzel Bakery, Inc. also produces Essential Eating 100 Percent Whole Grain Sprouted Splits. Made with organic extra virgin olive oil, the crunchy crisps offer 25 g. of whole grain per serving.

“Outside of the Northeast U.S., pretzels have a bad rap of being tasteless and dry,” says Spannuth. “We have always made products that are crunchy and flavorful.”

While some consumers are satisfied with the pretzel taste and crunch they’ve come to know and love, others are looking for something a little bolder. Snyder’s-Lance, Hanover, Pa., answered that call with its new Snyder’s of Hanover Bacon Cheddar Pretzel Pieces. The heartily-seasoned pretzel chunks join existing options Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper, Three Cheese Medley Nibblers, Jalapeño, Honey Mustard and Onion, Cheddar Cheese, Buttermilk Ranch and the popular Hot Buffalo Wing.

Consumers can purchase the pieces in 12-oz. bags, but some may want something a little more portable.

“We have introduced our two most popular flavored pieces, Honey Mustard and Onion and Hot Buffalo Wing, in a new handheld tube format for on-the-go snacking,” says Bob Gould, marketing manager, pretzels.

Gluten-free is a big trend in snacking and Snyder’s-Lance made sure to create a product for that specialized need.

“We see continued growth opportunities for the pretzel category as eating occasions and patterns continue to change in the American diet as well as continued concern over nutrition and diet,” says Gould.

By offering Gluten-Free Pretzel Sticks and Gluten-Free Mini Pretzels, a wider variety of consumers can now enjoy the salty snack.

Another company offering boldly-flavored pretzels in a better-for-you snack is Pretzel Crisps, Princeton, N.J.

“When it comes to snacks, pretzels are the better-for-you option as compared with other salty snack foods with fewer calories and less fat,” says Perry Abbenante, vice president of marketing. “Even better though, are Pretzel Crisps, which are low in calories, contain little to no fat, [are] made without any trans fat, saturated fat or cholesterol, and have less sodium than many other pretzel brands.”

Pretzel Crisps added Jalapeño Jack and Chipotle Cheddar options to its popular line of snacks.

“A spicy take on the cheese and cracker combination, Chipotle Cheddar pairs the unique smoky flavor of chipotle peppers with cheddar cheese and zesty spices,” says Abbenante. “Jalapeño Jack combines spicy jalapeño flavors with mild Monterey Jack cheese,” says Abbenante.

The Pretzel Crisps are only 110 calories per serving and join other options in the Deli Style line: Original, Garlic Parmesan, Buffalo Wing, Everything and Sesame.

“Original Pretzel Crisps offer dieting consumers a great snack to pair with fruits, veggies or lean protein,”
says Abbenante.

Sweet and savory are two flavor profiles that consumers are looking for together and Pretzel Crisps heeded the call with its Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Pretzel Crisps, introduced last October.

“Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Pretzel Crisps are coated in rich, premium dark chocolate and sprinkled with peppermint candy pieces,” says Abbenante.

The indulgent treat joined the White Chocolate and Peppermint variety as part of the company’s Holiday Indulgents line.

FunkyChunky, Inc. also recognized consumers’ craving for sweet and savory treats. The Minneapolis-based company creates all-natural snack mixes that are both salty and sugary.

“In 2010 we launched our Chip-Zel-Pop product—it was a never seen before combination of potato chips (CHIP), pretzels (ZEL) and popcorn (POP) and then drizzled with caramel and chocolates,” says Tore Swenson, director of sales and marketing. “The product is sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy and very addictive.”

Though it may seem indulgent, the company uses all-natural ingredients and plans to use organic and non-GMO ingredients as they become more readily available.

For consumers who want sweet and savory with simply pretzels, FunkyChunky offers a line of pretzels to satiate that craving.

“Most companies stop at chocolate-dipped pretzels,” says Swenson. “In our signature FunkyChunky Pretzel Mix, we use three types of chocolaty drizzle and chewy caramel—this combination really hits it out of the ballpark.”

Pretzels don’t always have to be crunchy and crisp; the complex snack also has a softer side. Farm Rich, St. Simons Island, Ga., is one company that creates a chewy pretzel snack with a surprise center.

The company’s Farm Rich Stuffed Pretzel Bites were launched last April and are a bite-sized pop of pretzel taste with a creamy cheese center. Warmed in either the oven or microwave, the Pretzel Bites are 110 calories per serving and contain no trans fats and only 3 g. of fat.

On the West Coast, San Diego Pretzel Company, National City, Calif., is creating its own line of soft pretzel snacks.

“In soft pretzels, the emerging food trend we see is a call for artisan, hand-made, all-natural soft pretzels and pretzel rolls,” says William Joering, general manager.

San Diego Pretzel Company offers a variety of European and American-style pretzels for the consumer to choose from. Whichever country consumers prefer, all the pretzels are vegan-friendly.

“We converted all of our recipes from using butter (dairy) to oil to improve our market presence for the vegan market,” says Joering. “While we have historically used non-GMO canola oil as a replacement for butter with our recipes, because of the emerging trend that all canola oil is being grouped with GMO ingredients, we are making the switch to olive oil this summer to coincide with new packaging.”

The new packaging includes communication of the pretzels’ diet factors like vegan, non-GMO, low fat and low cholesterol, and will also include the rebranding of San Diego Pretzel Company’s two core recipes.

“Our Twisted Traditional will be rebranded to New York Style as our signature item was developed by our founders from Brooklyn, N.Y.,” says Joering. “Additionally, we are rebranding our Multigrain Soft Pretzel to the Golden State Multigrain as this was the product we developed here in California incorporating organic whole grains.”

Also included in the American-style clean-label pretzel line is the Philly Soft Pretzel, both chewy and crunchy, served either plain or with salt.

“As soft pretzel makers, we constantly strive for balance between shelf life and natural ingredients,” says Joering. “We could create pretzels that resemble Twinkiesand lasted for months, but will not compromise our clean-label product to use artificial preservatives.”

The Midwest is also exploring the softer side of this favored snack. Kim and Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels, Chicago, is not only creating a variety of freezer-friendly pretzels, it’s trying to turn the snack into a meal on its own.

“The soft pretzel has been transformed from a snack to an anytime meal,” says Kim Holstein, CEO and chief inspiration officer. “Our soft pretzels can be taken from the freezer and out in a child’s lunch box. By lunchtime, the pretzel will be thawed and ready to eat.”

With the company’s Stuffed Pretzel options such as Pizza Pretzel, Grilled Cheese, Cheddar Jalapeño or Spinach Feta, who wouldn’t want one of these pretzels instead of a PB&J sandwich?

“The grilled cheese stuffed pretzel and the pizza stuffed pretzel are big hits in our family,” says Holstein.

Of course, some of the Stuffed Pretzels seem to be made for the breakfast table, including Cream Cheese, Egg and Cheese, Apple Cinnamon and Cinnamon Roll. For dessert, consumers can turn to the Chocolate Brownie Stuffed Pretzel which boasts a chocolate crumb topping with a chocolate drizzled outside and a creamy fudge interior.

“Moms are always looking for new, healthier food alternatives for their kids,” states Holstein. “Our pretzels are a grab-and-go light meal that comes in flavors that make everyone happy.”

Kim and Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels have not strayed from the old pretzel classics. Its Traditional Bavarian and Sourdough Parmesan varieties are great for a grab-and-go snack and can even be used in lieu of bread for an everyday sandwich.

The company also recognized that gluten-free is a big trend in the pretzel category and recently introduced a Gluten-Free Bavarian soft pretzel.

“Kim and Scott’s gluten-free soft pretzel boasts a blend of five ancient grains, including sorghum flour, millet flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour and teff flour,” says Holstein. “In addition to rice flour, these ancient grains offer more fiber and therefore a healthier pretzel.”

In addition to being gluten-free, Kim and Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels are also nut-free, so families of those with nut allergies can serve the pretzels without worry.

Hard and crunchy or soft and hearty, pretzel manufacturers have created more options than ever to satisfy any consumer. Whether salty, sweet or both there’s a pretzel out there for almost everyone.