Pretzels have been around for more than a thousand years, originating in southern Europe around 610 A.D., according to historians. Today, crispy,
hard pretzels are consumed by people in many of the countries represented at the 2012 Olympics.

 And why not? Health-conscious consumers around the world appreciate a flavorful treat that typically has fewer calories than most other salty snacks on the market, as well as no trans-fat, saturated fat or cholesterol. Many pretzel manufacturers today are also offering products made with “all-natural” ingredients and no artificial colors, flavors or gluten. Even people mindful of their sodium intake can snack on pretzels, thanks to unsalted offerings from numerous pretzel makers.

Still, like the 2008 Olympic silver-medal winners preparing for their shot at the gold in London, pretzel manufacturers are continuously looking for ways to improve their products and meet consumer demand for a better-for-you snack.

“Consumers continue to seek healthier snack foods,” says Perry Abbenante, vice president of marketing for Snack Factory, LLC, Princeton, N.J., which makes Pretzel Crisps. “They want options they can feel good about eating without having to give up their favorite snacks or the flavors they’ve come to enjoy. Better-for-you snacks made with natural ingredients, low fat, whole grains and fewer calories are just some of the things consumers seek when choosing a snack for themselves as well as their families. You’ll also find consumers looking for munchies they can eat between meals that are not full of additives or
artificial ingredients.”

The company has been offering a healthier snack alternative for several years with its Modern Classics and Deli Style Pretzel Crisps. “All Pretzel Crisps flavors are low in fat, contain 110 calories and are made without any trans-fat, saturated fat or cholesterol,” says Abbenante. “Incredibly thin and crunchy, Pretzel Crisps are the best part of the pretzel, but lighter and more versatile than other pretzels.” 

The Modern Classics line comprises four flavors (Cinnamon Toast, Classic, Supreme and Tuscan Three Cheese), while the Deli Style line offers seven flavors (Buffalo Wing, Chipotle Cheddar, Everything, Garlic Parmesan, Jalapeno Jack, Original and Sesame).

Just in time for the 2011 holidays, Pretzel Crisps added a second flavor to its third line, Holiday Indulgents. Like White Chocolate & Peppermint Pretzel Crisps, Dark Chocolate & Peppermint Pretzel Crisps are covered in chocolate and sprinkled with peppermint candy pieces. Each bag holds 4 oz. of the sweet-and-salty crisps and retails for $2.99. A 1-oz. serving has 120 calories and 5 g. of fat, allowing consumers to enjoy a little holiday treat, as well as the health benefits of dark chocolate.

Yogurt, sweet and salty

Greek-style yogurt, a product hailing from the birthplace of the Olympics, is also garnering a lot of consumer attention, thanks to its numerous nutritional benefits. It has more protein and calcium than regular yogurt, but fewer carbohydrates and less sodium and sugar. Not surprisingly, it’s turning up on a variety of other edibles, including pretzels. 

“Tropical [Nut & Fruit Inc.] follows food trends and works to be first to market with new ideas,” says Alicia LeHota, president of the Grove City, Ohio-based manufacturer of nuts, snacks, chocolate and yogurt products. “Greek yogurt is one of the fastest-growing segments in a grocery store, and we hope to bring these consumers into the candy/snack segment.”

To that end, Tropical Nut & Fruit recently introduced Greek Yogurt Covered Pretzels that contain no partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors or flavors. A 5-oz., resealable bag has a suggested retail price of $2.99 and will be targeted at drug, warehouse and grocery stores. “It is an item that will go into candy and snack departments, but can be cross-merchandised with Greek yogurt in dairy departments,” LeHota explains. A 40-oz. bulk bag also will be available.

 “Consumers value the sweet-and-salty combo of a chocolate or yogurt pretzel,” says LeHota. “We have experienced significant growth in our flavored pretzels without a decrease in our yogurt and chocolate pretzels.”

Utz Quality Foods Inc., meanwhile, has introduced pretzel sticks made with whole wheat, flax, oats, rye, millet, barley and buckwheat, all grains garnering more attention from health-conscious consumers. Introduced in March 2012, 7 Whole Grain Pretzel Sticks are the latest addition to the Hanover, Pa., company’s Select line of artisan, deli-style pretzels.

Other Select products are Honey Wheat Braided Twists, Butter Sticks, Sesame Sticks, Pumpernickel Sticks, Everything Pretzels, Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces, Buttermilk Ranch Pretzel Pieces and Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Pieces.

7 Whole Grain Pretzel Sticks are
available in grocery, convenience and Walmart stores on the East Coast, from Maine to Atlanta. The suggested retail price for a 9-oz. bag is $3.29.

Utz Quality Foods also offers Utz Pretzel Pieces, Special Pretzels, Extra Dark Specials, Unsalted Specials, Multigrain Specials, Thin Pretzels, Country Stix, Hard Pretzels, Wheel Pretzels, Nuggets, Butter Waffles and Organic Pretzels. 

Twisting and turning

While healthier ingredients make an already better-for-you snack better, innovative shapes improve pretzels’ taste and functionality as well. It’s hard to believe that pretzel manufacturers continue to come up with new shapes for their products, which already are available in knots, sticks, wheels, nuggets, twists, fish shapes and countless other forms, but they do.

“As a classic, all-American snack, pretzels are expected to look and taste a certain way,” says Abbenante. “Over the years, many brands have taken the traditional pretzel and made it their own. At Snack Factory, we rethought the pretzel category and created Pretzel Crisps, a modern twist on an old favorite, by taking out the middle and baking it flat. While we’ve added sweet, savory and spicy flavors to our pretzel crackers, we’ve maintain the traditional qualities of a pretzel. Our Original Pretzel Crisps is our bestselling [stock-keeping unit] and our simplest flavor (just salt).”           

The flat shape enables consumers to top Pretzel Crisps with sliced fruits and vegetables, herbs, cheese, shrimp and more. The company even offers pretzel pairings and recipes on its website.

Consumers who like heartier toppings—salsa, hummus, spinach dip—will also appreciate Harvest Road Trussetts from Pretzels Inc., a North American pretzel and snack food supplier in Bluffton, Ind. Introduced in November 2011, Trussetts have a crisscross shape makes them “incredibly dip-friendly,” according to the company, while still delicious on their own. 

Baked with whole wheat, the all-natural pretzels are flat, thin and crispy, yet strong enough to make a great platform for dips. Harvest Road and private-label Trussetts are available in a variety of flavors, including Original, Barbecue, Buffalo and Honey Mustard and Onion, at grocery stores, mass merchandisers and warehouse clubs nationwide. The suggested retail price for a 7.2-oz. bag is $2.99.

Pretzel predictions

Just like the Olympics, pretzels have fans all over the world. And new products with all-natural, better-for-you ingredients and more versatile shapes will have even more people cheering for these enduring snack favorites.

“While the overall pretzel category was up slightly in 2011, Pretzel Crisps was up an astounding 106% in total U.S. food sales from the previous year,” says Abbenante.

“Similarly, we expect the pretzel category to perform just as well with comparable results in 2012 for Pretzel Crisps. Between our field marketing and sales teams, our innovative approach to social media, consistent public relations push and perfect combination of grass roots and ground-breaking marketing strategies, our focus has been to raise brand awareness and increase the number of new users at every possible moment. The IRI data for this year (ending May 13) shows we have been successful with an 86.7% increase over the last 52 weeks. This monthly percentage increase is juxtaposed against incredible results from last year, and we are confident this trend will continue with Pretzel Crisps sales increasing through the end of 2012.”

Tropical Nut & Fruit’s LeHota is equally optimistic about her company’s performance in 2012: “The [pretzel] category continued to grow for Tropical in 2011. More national brands are releasing coated pretzels. With the addition of new flavors (Orange and Lemon Creme), as well as our new Greek Yogurt Pretzels, we [expect to] see continued growth of this category in 2012.”

For more information about pretzels and pretzel trends, see “Pleasing Pretzels” in the May 2012 issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery.