Once a simple snack aisle staple, the humble pretzel is experiencing a resurgence, as restaurant menus tap into the classic flavors of this ubiquitous snack. According to Mintel, Chicago, there has been significant growth in the number of pretzel buns on menus recently, to the tune of 97 percent more items on menus than in previous years. The cumulative effect of this exposure might bode well for pretzel products across the snack spectrum.


Market data

“Demand for pretzels seems to be growing after several years of flat—and even negative— growth,” says Karl Brown, president, Pretzel Pete, Inc., Hatboro, PA. According to Brown, the pendulum is swinging back for two primary reasons: a slowing in the gluten-free market, which has hurt pretzel sales in the past, and the industry has done a better job of reinforcing pretzels as the original better-for-you snack over options like potato chips. This will continue to bring many shoppers back to the category.

According to the April 2017 “Salty Snacks in the U.S.” report from Mintel, 60 percent of consumers reported purchasing pretzels in the past three months, beating out products like ready-to-eat and microwaveable popcorn, meat snacks and pork rinds.

Data from IRI, Chicago shows sales of pretzels held steady in the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017, up 0.23 percent in dollar sales reaching $1.2 billion. Snyder’s-Lance continues to hold the largest share of the pretzels market, with company pretzel sales up 2.60 percent to $454.2 million. Utz Quality Foods also showed positive growth over the past year, up 8.38 percent to $90.2 million, per IRI.

Other top performers for the year include Unique Splits Pretzels, clocking in with 16.58 percent growth to $7.9 million, per IRI. Dollar sales of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels grew by 145.84 percent to reach $6.2 million. Both of these brands show the potential for artisan-style pretzels in today’s market.

The chocolate covered salted snack area of miscellaneous snacks is home to chocolate-covered pretzels, and the segment grew by 5.92 percent to $194.3 million. Top brands in this segment include: Flipz from DeMet’s Candy Co., up 24.43 percent to $59.4 million; Snack Factory chocolate-covered pretzel crisps, a Snyder’s-Lance brand, up 12.40 percent to $12.9 million; and Snappers, from Edward Marc Brands, up 15.20 percent to $11.3 million.

Frozen soft pretzels also saw a gain for the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017, per IRI, up 3.34 percent to $77.1 million. The segment is led by J&J Snack Foods Corp., which saw its frozen pretzels, led by the Super Pretzel line, grow by 1.99 percent to $55.3 million. Notably, private label saw a significant gain of 35.39 percent in frozen pretzels, rising to $7.9 million in sales.


Looking back

When it comes to top trends, those in the pretzel category closely align with those dominating the rest of the food industry, namely, creative flavors and clean labels.

For Pretzel Pete, a clean label means non-GMO ingredients. But portion control is another trend that’s on the rise. Brown says that portion control packs are the fastest-growing segment in the brand’s portfolio, likely thanks to a focus on “smart snacking.” Plus, he says, “given the low calorie and fat count, pretzels still fit in as a great-tasting product that can also be filling,” which also appeals to consumers looking for healthier alternatives.

Suppliers are responding to this trend toward healthier options with ingredients like malt extract. According to Jim Kappas, vice president of sales and marketing, Malt Products Corp., Saddle Brook, NJ, malt extract offers a nice boost of antioxidants to snacks. Additionally, the company’s barley malt extract, tapioca syrups and other natural sweeteners are available in organic and non-GMO varieties.

Snyder’s-Lance recently reformulated its core line of pretzels to include non-GMO ingredients, while Snack Factory launched an organic variety in February 2017.

“Pretzels have always been a snack that consumers view as more wholesome, because of simple ingredients, as well as being baked and minimally processed,” explains Faith Atwood, senior director of marketing, Snyder’s of Hanover, a subsidiary of Snyder’s-Lance, Hanover, PA. So, instead of a candy bar, consumers may reach for a product like Snack Factory Dark Chocolate Crunch; instead of a processed energy shot, they may choose a handful of pretzels with peanut butter. And because of this, the category is getting a flavor makeover.

Kappas has noticed an increase in savory flavor launches, including spicy and salty-sweet profiles. Last year, Snack Factory launched a Bacon Habanero flavor, while Pretzel Pete launched Mini Twists in Smoky Barbeque, Salted Caramel and Cheese Pizza flavors. Snyder’s of Hanover introduced S’mores Sweet & Salty Pretzel Pieces to tap into the indulgence-seeking consumer.

In addition to positioning pretzels as guiltless pleasures, another reason for this broadening of flavors in the market, says Brown, is that a wider variety of consumers are shopping the pretzel aisle: “For many years, pretzel consumption was concentrated almost solely in the mid-Atlantic region but, in recent years, the category has gained an increasingly national footprint. As part of that, there is a need for more innovation and variety in terms of flavors.”


Looking forward

Without a doubt, an influential trend going forward will be alternative flours and bases for pretzels. “The gluten-free trend, while slowing, has opened many eyes to the virtues of offering the consumer more of a choice in their pretzel—not just in flavor, but also in the base grains that are used,” says Brown. “I suspect we will see more experimentation and launches in this direction in the coming years.” The Snyder’s of Hanover Braided Twists line has been expanded to include an ancient grain variety, made with chia and quinoa.

Sorghum is another ingredient to watch. According to Mintel, sorghum is one of the top five most commonly used cereal grains worldwide, and has been gaining in popularity in the salty snacks category—and especially in pretzels. Mainly, this is thanks to the gluten-free phenomenon; however, there is incredible room for growth stateside, as just 10 percent of global sorghum-based foods and drinks came out of the U.S. in the last three years. Mintel believes that sorghum is poised to show a similar growth trajectory as ancient grain superstar quinoa, thanks to its artisan appeal, gluten-free status, clean profile and versatility.

Some snack producers are already working with sorghum. In April 2017, Quinn Snacks, Boulder, CO, launched Classic Sea Salt and Touch of Honey pretzel sticks made from sorghum.

But that’s likely just the beginning of this ingredient’s rise, as Mintel believes consumers will respond very well to its high whole-grain content and better-for-you nutrient profile, qualities that very well could help drive sales growth in the pretzel market.