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. 


Unlike their basic counterparts, today’s pretzel introductions are showing up at the pool sporting new shapes, flavors and fewer calories.

For many people, summer means spending as much time as possible at a pool—municipal, resort or, if they’re fortunate enough, backyard. They often ditch chores to maximize pool time and make meals and snacks that are lighter, easier to prepare without oven heat and easy to eat. No sticky fingers or crumbs, please.

That doesn’t mean consumers are willing to compromise on flavor, though, especially when it comes to poolside snacking. They still want something that’s delicious as well as portable and neat to eat. Enter today’s pretzels. Sporting unique shapes and intense flavors, they’re definitely “knot” the same as their basic counterparts—thanks to consumer demand for bolder flavors, variety and better-for-you ingredients.

“One trend we see is an increased demand for intense flavor,” says Bob Gould, marketing manager, Snyder’s of Hanover, Hanover, Pa. “Consumers are looking for a salty snack that’s tasty and savory, with more complex flavor combinations. With Snyder’s of Hanover’s expanding product varieties, such as Flavored Pretzel Pieces, Flavor Doubles, Nibblers and Pretzel Sandwiches, we are hoping to satisfy the consumer’s cravings with a wide array of offerings.”

Introduced in January, Flavor Doubles, the newest addition to the company’s line of Flavored Pretzel Pieces, combine two flavors in one bag. Consumers can choose from Hot Buffalo Wing & Buttermilk Ranch or Cheddar Cheese & Cracked Pepper. Both are available in a 10-oz. package size.

Roasted Garlic & Herb Nibblers, also introduced in January, are slow-baked with authentic, naturally-aged sourdough to achieve Snyder’s of Hanover unique sourdough pretzel taste. The bite-sized pieces are then seasoned with a blend of roasted garlic and savory herbs. They come in a 12-oz. bag.

The third January introduction, Spicy Cheddar Pretzel Sandwiches, feature a creamy cheddar cheese filling seasoned with jalapeno peppers sandwiched between two round pretzel snaps. They come in an 8-oz. bag.

In shape for summer

Pretzel Pete Inc., Lansdale, Pa., is “very active in the pretzel market, in various formats and specializes exclusively in seasoned pretzels,” says president Karl Brown. “What we try to achieve is something very robust—some would say almost polarizing—flavors that appeal to those people who have a particular predilection to a particular flavor format.”

Pretzel Pete’s gourmet pretzel nuggets come in four distinctive flavors: Honey Mustard; Garlic & Cheese; Sour Cream & Habanero; and Cheddar & Ale. “It doesn’t bother me if someone says, ‘I don’t care for that particular flavor, but I love one of your other flavors because I really love garlic or the taste of beer or hot stuff,’” says Brown. “Customers will buy something they love. If they hate or are neutral to a flavor, they’re not going to buy it.”

Joining the product line a little over a year ago, Pretzel Pete’s Pretzel Pearls are about the size and shape of a pea and seasoned exclusively with Asian flavors. “We have a Wasabi flavor, a Sriracha flavor, a Coconut Curry flavor and a Szechuan flavor,” says Brown, explaining that he was drawn to those flavors after observing some of the younger people in the company’s office. “I’m sort of the generation where you go out and get a sandwich or piece of pizza for lunch. They’re coming in eating sushi and [Asian] noodles. Younger people definitely have a much more open and diverse palate.”

Regarding Pretzel Pearls’ size and shape, Brown says he was looking for a product smaller in terms of bite size than the company’s existing nugget and also something offering a high piece count. “A 1-oz. serving of the Pretzel Pearls is about 45-50 pieces, so you have a very nice piece count with a very high flavor impact,” he explains. “I think that with a lot of snacks, a 1-oz. serving isn’t particularly satisfying. I was trying to find something with a piece count and a flavor profile that would leave the consumer feeling very satisfied after having truly a single serving.”

Pretzel Pete Pretzel Nuggets come in an 8-oz. bag and a 5.25- and 9-oz. box. Pretzel Pete Pretzel Pearls come in a 4.5-oz. bag and 7.5-oz. plastic tub.

Utz Pretzel Pop’z comes in several sizes as well, making it easy for consumers to enjoy the product poolside, alone or with friends. Utz Quality Foods Inc., Hanover, Pa., now offers the popular all-natural, bite-size pretzel nuggets in a 3-oz. bag for convenient on-the-go snacking, a 12-oz. bag for sharing or 30-oz. resealable plastic barrel.

Consumers who enjoy relaxing by the pool with a tall glass of sweet tea, instead of a tart lemonade, will appreciate two other Utz offerings: Utz Butterfinger Pretzels, which combine the crispy, crunchy, peanut butter flavor of a Nestle Butterfinger candy bar with Utz Mini Pretzels; and Utz Cinnamon Pretzel Sticks. Available for a limited time, the latter are lightly salted, whole-wheat pretzels with a touch of cinnamon baked into them. They’re available in a 14-oz. bag or 40-oz. barrel.

Hold the calories

In addition to seeking out snacks with innovative flavors and shapes, consumers are also looking for better-for-you snacks. “Pretzels offer reduced calories and less fat than other leading snack categories,” says Gould. “Even some of the boldest flavored varieties, such as [Snyder’s of Hanover’s] Flavored Pretzel Pieces, contain 30% less fat than the leading flavored potato chip.”

For Brown, portion control was a factor when developing Pretzel Pete’s Pretzel Pearls. “I was trying to come up with a product that you could feel satisfied with in a single 1-oz. serving,” he explains. “In a lot of cases, people are eating them one at a time. They’ll say, ‘Wow! Forty-five of these are a serving, and that’s only 130 calories. I can get away with only eating 20-25 of these things, and I feel pretty satisfied after.’”

Sink or swim

Despite pretzels’ reputation as a healthier snack option, the category faces some challenges, many from within. “The pretzel category is highly competitive, which means differentiation is one of the biggest category challenges,” says Gould. “We are focused on giving consumers a reason to try Snyder’s of Hanover. We know once they try the bold flavors and great sourdough taste, they will continue to purchase our product.”

Brown cites market domination by two major national players as a reason for the lack of growth in the traditional pretzel category. “They have very good distribution, but for other companies trying to develop a national market, it’s very difficult competing with the distribution networks they have,” he explains. “It makes it very difficult, from a traditional pretzel standpoint, to do too much out of the box. That’s why we don’t deal with anything that’s not seasoned. We just specialize in seasoned pretzel.”

Still, Brown sees growth opportunities for the category. “It’s amazing how much the world of flavors and different taste profiles has spread among a lot of the different categories of snack foods,” he says. “In some ways, you could argue that pretzels are a little bit late to the party. If you just look at the number of SKUs [stock-keeping units] that Pringles has in terms of flavors, it’s mind-boggling. Wheat Thins is out now with lots of different flavors, too. That speaks to the demand of customers who are looking for high-impact flavor profiles and adding experimentation to their daily routine.

“That was part of the reason why I went into the direction of the Asian-flavored pretzel balls. Nowadays, you can go into practically any small town in America and find an Indian restaurant, but it’s still very difficult to find snack products that carry similar flavor profiles. My idea was to try to wed some of those flavor profiles into a typical, American snack product—the pretzel—and mold those two together.”

Gould says Snyder’s of Hanover also sees flavor as a factor in the growth of this well-developed category. “We see flavored salty snacks as a potential area for growth, which is why we are focused on promoting our pretzel varieties that offer intense flavor and taste,” he explains.

For years, consumers have considered pretzels a better—if somewhat unexciting—snack. But thanks to today’s flavorful and shapely new varieties, pretzels are ready for the deep end of the pool. 


State of the Industry Report on Snacks Overview