As we recently noted in our State of the Industry report on pretzels (see “Today’s pretzel logic”), the pretzels subcategory within salty snacks saw rather flat sales for the 52 weeks ending May 17, 2015, per IRI, Chicago, down 0.99 percent in dollar sales to $1.22 billion.

This comes despite a flurry of new product launches—some of which show great promise for boosting sales and snack share of stomach in the coming year.

One of these is Unique Pretzel Bakery, Inc., Reading PA, run by the Spannuth family. Its Unique Splits product—pretzel twists that burst open during baking to create pockets of crunch-fueled flavor—was up 25.82 percent in dollar share to $5.02 million for the year, per IRI. The family has been baking pretzels since the late 1800s.

Few places are better suited to digging into the pretzel market than Pennsylvania. In order to get a better finger to the pulse of the pretzel market, we gathered some insight from Justin Spannuth, VP/COO, of Unique Pretzel Bakery.


Spannuth brothers

Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: Pretzels and Pennsylvania have a rich, storied history. What are some of the key events in the past that helped Pennsylvania bring pretzels to such a high level of acclaim?

Justin Spannuth: The Pennsylvania/pretzel connection goes back as far as German immigrants settling in our region and bringing with them their legacy of making beer and pretzels. Pennsylvania has embraced its heritage as pretzel makers—most notably in 2003 when then-governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, declared April 26th as “National Pretzel Day” to pay homage to the impact pretzels has had on the state. The city of Reading, PA, where Unique is headquartered, recently developed Reading Pretzel Fest to celebrate the love affair with our favorite snack. Started in 2013, the yearly festival allows guests to sample some of the world’s best pretzels and try different pretzel-based recipes that were developed by local chefs.


DJP: How does pretzel culture differ in Pennsylvania compared to the rest of the United States?

JS: Reading, PA is home to seven pretzel manufacturers, more than any other area of the country. Many of these manufacturers are companies that have been around for decades. Residents of the state have grown up eating hard pretzels that were practically made in their own backyards. Looking at sales numbers across different grocery store chains, the northeast segment of the country continuously buys more pretzels than any other area.


DJP: How does Unique Pretzel Bakery draw inspiration from this strong Pennsylvania pretzel heritage?

JS: With Unique being a six-generation, family-owned company, our own heritage is a big part of our inspiration. We’re using the same unique baking style and ingredients that were used back in the late 1800s when the Spannuth family first started making pretzels. We’re not changing a thing!


DJP: What is the “unique” in Unique Pretzels?

JS: Our baking style is really what makes us “unique” and separates us from the competitors. When making our “Splits,” we let the raw pretzel set to perfection before getting placed in the oven for a slow bake. This causes the pretzels to burst open and create bubbles and crevices that are crunchy and full of flavor. Every pretzel in every bag is truly unique. We also were the original creators of the hollow pretzel we call “Shells,” making our first version of it in February 2011.  The “Shells” product and a packaging rebrand of the “Splits” have been what helped slingshot us into becoming the fastest-growing pretzel brand.


DJP: Where do you see the pretzels category headed in terms of product types and overall trends?

JS: I think the pretzel category will continue to look for the healthiest possible alternatives. The gluten-free trend had a huge impact on the snack industry, and has put a hurt on all wheat-based products, but now we believe the sprouted-flour movement is about to take off since it’s heart-healthy and diabetic-friendly. That’s one of the reasons we’ve developed Sprouted “Splits” and Sprouted “Shells,” the first ever sprouted flour pretzels. They’re made with 100 percent organic whole-grain sprouted-wheat and organic extra-virgin olive oil. Each serving has 25 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber. They’re all-natural and organic with no added sugars or malts. Not only do they taste great and only contain four ingredients, but they digest like a vegetable.

We believe our sprouted pretzels will be the next impactful product to get introduced to the snack category. After our factory expansion in 2012, we increased our capacity and added a new oven line. Now that renovations are complete, we’re looking to establish ourselves in more retail chains and become available in all areas of the country. We’re constantly getting calls, emails and Facebook messages from consumers who can’t find our pretzels in area they live in. It’s definitely a top priority of ours to be everywhere!