What's new in the snack poolExtending our State of the Industry presentations to the snack market this month, we’re focusing on new snack products, the perspective of snack manufacturers and product leaders and market sales. There’s plenty for snackers to celebrate. We’re snacking more than ever, according to a recent survey by The Hartman Group, and consumers are looking for wholesome snacks with clean labels, bold flavors and good taste. This annual report indicates that snacking is evolving into much more than a trite, quick, impulse food moment: Snacking is no longer swimming upstream when it comes to eating occasions. Snacking is here to stay and livelier than ever.  

We found plenty of food for thought at May’s Sweets & Snack Expo and the National Restaurant Association’s annual expo. Sponsored by the National Confectioners Association, Sweets & Snacks was a treasure trove of all things crunchy, munchy, sweet and salty. New snacks included fruity chips; numerous popped, baked and puffed chips; vegetable-based crisp sticks; chipotle chips; deli-flavored and “dirty” potato chips (meaning that the skin is left on); rice-based crisps; hybrids of flavored, ridged, multigrain chips that team oats and potatoes, flax, sesame and caraway seeds (such as Herr’s new Good Natured Selects); pretzels covered in white chocolate, chocolate mint and drizzled peanut butter; and sticks that resemble French fries in horseradish, bacon, chicken and steak flavorings.

Record show attendance was another highlight of the event, which could be due to NCA’s format changes, the strength of merchandise categories and an “unprecedented number” of international exhibitors, with a new Ecuadorian pavilion joining Brazilian, Chinese, German and Mexican pavilions. More than 15,300 people attended the show, which took place in Chicago’s McCormick Place, representing a more than 10% increase in attendees over 2012, NCA says. The show is now in its 17th year.

“It has become increasingly important that our industry continues to expand our markets to include other countries and regions,” says Tim Quinn, expo chairman and vice president, trade development, Mars Chocolate North America. “The global marketplace provides an area of growth opportunity going forward, and our Expo is the place to connect with manufacturers from around the world to discover international products that can set retailers apart from the rest.”

Equally appealing, the 94th annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) show, held just before and concurrently with the Sweets & Snacks Expo, featured more than 1,800 suppliers and tens of thousands of buyers who drive business profitability and shape the future of the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry. This year’s event hosted more than 62,500 registrants from all 50 states and 100+ countries, representing a second consecutive year of growth. The lodging category saw the largest increase in registrants at more than 10%. Restaurant/foodservice, retail and press registration also experienced growth, NRA reports.

This year, foodservice operators were seeking convenient, affordable ways to respond to shifting consumer demands, according to exhibitors. Many products are designed with a better-for-you approach, feature bolder flavors or are taking cues from the new school nutritional guidelines, and are redesigned to fit these standards. They include baked snack chips, whole-wheat crackers and granola clusters, tropical flavors, products made from denser potatoes and Greek yogurt influences.

Tasty gluten-free introductions such as potato and corn chips that are naturally gluten-free are being promoted as such.

Salted caramel seemed to dominate the sweet side of things, but many desserts were downsized, single-serve or “mini.” Superfoods are being incorporated into all kinds of baked goods and specialty breads of the hour included new takes on pretzel breads, like deli-sized sandwich rolls, Ciabattas and upscale/artisan breads featuring unusual flavor combinations.

So take a dip in our splashy pool of articles compiling this month’s State of the Industry reports on snacks. With hot days on hand, we found plenty of news about how and why snacking is changing in the U.S. Take a look at what’s in the cabana; we’re covering the top trends in potato and other chips, tortilla chips, pretzels, crisps, nuts, trail mix, jerky, meat snacks, popcorn, crackers and pork rinds as well as a few new product entries.