Our 2013 State of the Industry report on snacks focuses on new snack products, the perspective of snack manufacturers and product leaders and market sales.
Whether they’re looking for a convenient snack to eat right out of the box or a snack with a topping between dips in the pool, consumers will find a variety of flavorful, better-for-you and satisfying products awaiting them in retailers’ cracker and crisps aisle.
Just as it’s impossible to ignore the lure of a glistening swimming pool on a hot summer’s day, it’s difficult not to crave a light, yet satisfying and nutritious, snack after hours of splashing around in the water. For many consumers, this often means reaching for a box of better-for-you crackers and crisps to eat as-is or use as a foundation for dips, cheese, meat snacks and other toppings.
“Consumers are increasingly seeking out better-for-you alternatives in all their snacking choices, including snack crackers,” says Tom Ingram, senior brand director, Lance sandwich crackers, Snyder’s-Lance Inc., Charlotte, N.C. “This will continue to be a strong focus area for us going forward.”
As part of its 100th anniversary celebration this year, Snyder’s-Lance has rolled out several new products. Lance Xtra Fulls Toasty and ToastChee offer up to 6 g. of protein per serving for an extra satisfying snacking experience. Lance Graham Cracker Creations with a peanut butter or chocolate filling are all-natural, premium sandwich crackers made with crunchy, slightly sweet graham wafers. Jalapeno Cheddar Captain’s Wafers add a spicy twist to the company’s well-known line of light-and-flaky sandwich crackers.
Less sodium and more whole grains are two other trends driving sales in the cracker category, Ingram says. “Most recently, we committed to the National Sodium Reduction Initiative,” he explains. “As part of this, we have already reduced the average sodium content of our Lance sandwich crackers.”
In response to consumer demand for more whole grains, the company increased the number of whole grains in its Lance Whole Grain Sandwich Crackers from 9 to 11 g. per serving. The new formulations will be available in stores this month.
Jim Garsow, director of marketing for Crunchmaster, a brand of Loves Park, Ill.-based TH Foods Inc., also says consumers are gravitating toward snacks offering nutritional benefits. “Products that are gluten-free continue to be very hot,” he explains. “Lower-fat, higher-protein, higher-fiber, whole-grain snacks continue to grow in popularity. Snack manufacturers are adding lentils, pea powder, garbanzo beans, etc. to increase protein and natural sources of fiber to enhance the nutritional profile of their snacks.”
Crunchmaster makes gluten-free Multi-Seed Crackers, Multi-Grain Crackers, Multi-Grain Crisps, 7 Ancient Grains Crackers and Baked Rice Crackers as well as Cheddar Cheezy Crisps and Cinnamon & Sugar Grammy Crisps for children. The latest addition to its product line, Crunchmaster Popped Edamame Chips, are made with a blend of pure California rice and real edamame. The crispy, all-natural snack contains no saturated fat, has 3 g. of protein and comes in two flavors—Sea Salt and Wasabi Soy.
Like Crunchmaster’s Garsow, Cara Figgins, vice president of Partners, Kent, Wash., says there’s still a “very big push” in the cracker category for good-tasting, gluten-free products as well as continued awareness of all-natural products and items made without genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The company recently introduced a gluten-free cracker made with all-natural, nonGMO ingredients under the Free for All Kitchen brand name. “It is an ancient-grain-blend product made with cassava flour, amaranth, teff, quinoa, millet and sorghum,” Figgins explains. “We took that base cracker and created versions of our three top-selling conventional products: Olive Oil & Sea Salt, Roasted Garlic & Rosemary and Olive Oil & Herb.”
Authentic, cleaner, simpler
It’s impossible to hear or read about healthy eating trends nowadays without some mention of the Mediterranean diet. “We’re seeing continued interest in more authentic, cleaner ingredients, particularly with an emphasis on vegetable- and legume-based offerings and less-processed, simpler, all-natural foods,” says Lonnie Williard, vice president of marketing, Mediterranean Snacks, Boonton, N.J. “Savvy, health-conscious consumers are reading labels, not just looking at the front of the packaging.”
Williard adds that snacks still have to taste good though. “The flavor profiles are definitely branching out, with bolder seasonings, or more ethnic and more sophisticated flavors,” she says.
To that end, in April, Mediterranean Snacks launched tapaz2go, a convenient, gluten-free-certified, shelf-stable, mini-meal solution that combines a single-serve pouch of its Lentil Crackers with a serving of hummus in a portable package. The hummus comes in Roasted Garlic; Red Pepper; or Classic. “Part of what makes this product so special is that tapaz2go captures key consumer trends, like eating small meals, the popularity of tapas and increased snacking occasions,” explains Williard. “It also leverages the known benefits of a legume-rich diet.”
Dave Leyrer, co-founder of Skeeter Snacks, Westport, Conn., cites brand extensions, particularly flavor and variety expansions, and the growing use of disclaimers and warning labels about allergens (as they pertain to tree nuts and peanuts) as two additional trends in the crackers and crisps category. “That’s a big opportunity for us going forward to make great-tasting, mainstream snacks—and enter into areas where people before hadn’t been concerned about the allergen exposure,” he says.
The company, which makes a variety of nut-free cookies, is launching nut-free Cinnamon Grahams—“Skeetergrams”—this month. The snack is made with all-natural ingredients and whole grain and has no trans-fat or high fructose corn syrup.
While it’s never good for people to get “crispy” when lounging by the pool, enjoying a healthy, crispy snack between meals can be a good way for them to stave off hunger and avoid overeating at full sit-down meals. “Now, more than ever, snacking has taken over the main three meals, becoming ‘substitute meals’ for people who eat up to six small meals a day,” says Katie Cline, brand manager at Inventure Foods Inc., Phoenix. “We’ve found that the ‘crunch’ element is important to snackers.”
This month, the company introduced three new baked snacks that pack a crunch: TGI Fridays Extreme Heat Crunchy Fries have a bold flavor and only 140 calories per serving. TGI Fridays Cheddar Cheese Jalapeno Poppers have a zesty cheddar taste. Nathan’s Famous Bacon & Cheddar Crinkle Fries have a strong bacon flavor balanced with cheddar and just 140 calories per serving. All are zero trans-fat.
“The trend for ‘better-for-you’ is not new, but continues to grow,” says Claire Cretors, president, Cornfields Inc., Waukegan, Ill. “Whole grains, nonGMOs, no gluten—these are all growing trends.” The company introduced its all-natural Hi! I’m Skinny sticks in early 2012. The crispy snack has up to 19 g. of whole grains, up to 40% less fat than conventional potato chips and is made with nonGMO ingredients.
In response to consumer demand for single-service, portion-controlled options, Cornfields recently introduced single-serve bags of Hi! I’m Skinny sticks and plans to launch a variety pack of single-serve bags in the next three months.
A crowded category
Like other snack manufacturers, cracker and crisp producers find themselves facing numerous challenges within the category.
“The crackers category is extremely competitive, which means differentiation is one of the biggest category challenges,” says Ingram. “Families have a lot of choices, and we are focused on giving consumers a reason to choose Lance sandwich crackers.”
Cline agrees: “There is a lot of competition in this market. We strive to remain relevant and exciting to the consumer in a hyper-competitive market.”
“The competition is tough,” Figgins chimes in. “We are a smaller company in the industry, but we still have to compete against the bigger companies for shelf space and consumer attention. We don’t have big advertising dollars, [so] we have to be creative.”
Skeeter Snacks’ Leyrer also cites consumer awareness as a category challenge. “When there are so many beloved brands that have long histories and remind us all of our childhood, that is a real moat,” he says. “That moat is made deeper and broader when so many of the new products are extensions of those well-loved and very familiar brands. We saw a real gap in the marketplace and an opportunity to address a big problem in a very mainstream and common sense way.”
For Garsow, the snack category continues to be cluttered with products that simply are variations of fried potato or tortilla chips. “It is a real challenge to convert consumers to better-for-you snacks that have superior nutrient content but tend to have higher cost ingredients,” he acknowledges.
Room for growth
Despite facing numerous challenges, cracker and crisps manufacturers acknowledge that there are still plenty of opportunities for growth in the category.
One example is building awareness for sandwich crackers as a great family snacking option among consumers who don’t know about or buy these snacks, says Ingram.
Expanding the occasions to enjoy sandwich crackers is another growth opportunity for the crackers category. “The occasions to eat snack crackers have increased over the years as the category has evolved,” Ingram says. “Just about any snacking occasion could involve a snack cracker, from after-school activities to family road trips.”
For Leyrer, “making safe snacks that don’t require sacrifices in terms of price or taste is a big deal,” he says. “The major snack food brands aren’t addressing what is a huge, fast-growing and very dangerous set of allergies. Most niche players and other startups focus on all allergens.”
Williard says Mediterranean Snacks is seeing a continued increase in snacking occasions among consumers and growth in the amount of snacking comprising their daily food intake. And because consumers are busier than ever, they’re also seeking out products that offer ultimate convenience.
With its toasty temperatures and abundance of outdoor activities, summer prompts many people to forego big, heavy meals in favor of small, light bites throughout the day, whether they’re at the park, a ballgame or the pool. Today’s flavorful, better-for-you crackers and crisps no doubt will encourage many consumers to maintain this practice long after the pool is closed for the season.