Potato chips are a staple snack and meal accompaniment, a natural pairing with burgers and hot dogs on the grill, or with a sandwich at lunch. And sales are on the rise. Part of this is due to the strong level of innovation in the category.

“Chips are a category of snack food that has seen a drastic overhaul in flavor innovation and product development in the past few years,” says Francine Reisman, market manager, Corteva Agriscience, Wilmington, DE. “This reinvention of the types of chips offered has expanded consumer interest and kept the market for chips strong.”

Regardless of any prevailing healthy food or diet trends, everyone loves potato chips, notes Mike Jacko, vice president of new applications and innovations, Urschel, Chesterton, IN. “There has been slow, steady growth among the big brands, and the many smaller, regional guys alike, in the U.S. We see a real push by the second-tier manufacturers to improve quality, control costs and improve yield to compete with each other and not lose any market share to the world leader.”


Market data

The salty snacks category is on the rise. Sales increased 4.9 percent to $24.9 billion for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2019, per IRI, Chicago. And while salty snacks are kings of the snacking universe, potato chips are the single largest segment within the category. Sales of potato chips likewise increased for the year, up 2.2 percent to reach $7.7 billion.

Frito-Lay leads the category by a wide margin, with over 60 percent share of the segment. Lay’s is the flagship product, and the brand grew 0.5 percent to $2.2 billion, per IRI. Ruffles were up 6.0 percent to $1.1 billion. Lay’s Kettle Cooked grew 3.6 percent to $324.3 million. Ruffles Sabritas, which have a Queso (cheese) flavor, also performed well, up 13.2 percent to $72.6 million.

A particularly notable sales development in the Frito-Lay potato chip business was in better-for-you. Lay’s Oven Baked leapt 40.5 percent to take in $117.0 million. And Ruffles Oven Baked saw 23.9 percent growth to $59.4 million.

Offerings from Kellogg make up the second-largest share of the market, with the bulk of those sales coming from Pringles, up 8.4 percent in sales to reach $809.0 million.

Utz Quality Foods saw a bit of growth for its namesake potato chip line, up 1.4 percent to $229.6 million. And Wise Foods likewise saw an increase for its signature potato chips, up 2.6 percent to $68.8 million.

Apple chips saw a great improvement this year, up 15.3 percent to $22.6 million. Pine Creek and its Bare brand of apple chips leads the way. The brand was up 37.8 percent to $13.2 million. Sisters Fruit Co.’s apple chips had another year of strong growth, up 55.3 percent to $346,218.


Looking back

A big trend in the chip aisle is bold, spicy flavor. Reisman has noticed demand for salsa, spicy queso and teriyaki flavor profiles.

Rachael Lynch, global marketing manager, Potatoes USA, Denver, notes demand for ingredients like ghost pepper, Thai chili, horseradish, habanero and wasabi as manufacturers compete to “set mouths on fire.”

As we have seen in other segments of salty snacks, youthful demographics feed this fire. “A big driver of this trend is the fact that younger generations are exposed to a broader spectrum of flavors early on and have more access than ever to different foods from a diverse set of cultures,” says Jared Johnson, vice president of insights and analytics, Frito-Lay North America, Plano, TX. In an effort to capitalize, Frito-Lay has introduced Lay’s Flamin’ Hot Dill Pickle potato chips, among other products across the salty snacks category.

Subtle flavors are also hitting the market. Cape Cod Potato Chips, part of the Snyder’s-Lance subsidiary of Campbell Soup Co., recently released an LTO Cape Cod Summer Potato Chips, flavored with cracked pepper and a hint of lemon.

Better-for-you chip options are also making waves, says Reisman. “Consumers want high-quality food made with high-quality ingredients.” This opens the door to using healthier oils.

High-stability oils made from high-oleic oil seeds like omega-9 canola oil and Plenish high-oleic soybean oil are in high demand, Reisman says, because they help provide a balanced solution for chip manufacturers looking to allow trendy bold flavors to shine through without being masked by the taste of the oil. Plus, since these oils are developed under an identity preservation program which protects the quality of the crop and its oil, traceability and transparency are possible, which is a value-add in an environment where consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from.

“These oils offer a solution that passes along clean taste to the consumer, extend shelf life and yield a healthier oil option without sacrificing functionality or performance,” says Reisman. “I believe that, as consumers continue to demand healthier options and more ingredient transparency, we’ll see more and more companies be more selective of this critical, yet under considered, ingredient for chips.”

High-oleic soybean oil contributes zero grams of trans fat and lower levels of saturated fat than many other alternatives, notes Frank Filder, oils consultant, QUALISOY, Chesterfield, MO. The monounsaturated fatty acid content is among the highest of any oil currently used to produce snacks and chips. He also notes that switching to high-oleic soybean oil or a blend for frying can extend fry life, reduce cleaning costs and increase profitability.

When it comes to format trends, consumers are leaning toward extra-thick potato chips and those made from hydrated potato flakes, like Pringles, says Lynch. “This suggests a juxtaposition between minimally processed like-homemade potato chips and fabricated chips made from dehydrated potato flakes both gaining in popularity,” she says. “The rise of the latter could be due in part to competition for chips made from legumes like lentils and chickpeas, which offer a similar texture and consistency.”

Late in 2018, Pringles launched a line that fits directly into this format, Pringles Wavy chips, which have a thicker, wavy texture for a bolder crunch. Flavors include Fire Roasted Jalapeño, Classic Salted, Sweet & Tangy BBQ and Applewood Smoked Cheddar.


Looking forward

As trends change rapidly, equipment manufacturers are offering new technology to help brands keep up. At Urschel, the new MicroAdjustable Slicing Head (SL-14) features 14 cutting stations that maximize slice engagement. “This increased cutting station design delivers much-higher capacities versus the standard, fully adjustable eight-station cutting head,” explains Jacko, adding that making the switch to the new head requires no special adaptors or the need to purchase a new slicer. “By replacing the standard head with the new SL-14, processors nearly double their potential capacity.”

Going forward, Jacko anticipates that manufacturers will further differentiate themselves by stepping away from everyday slicing styles to offer new formats and shapes. These could take the shape of strips, dices, thin crinkle, deep crinkle and V-cut three-dimensional options. For these cutting solutions, Urschel offers the DiversaCut line.

This all speaks to demands for diversity. “When it comes to snacking, consumers are increasingly looking for snacks to do more than ever before,” says Johnson. “To meet changing consumer needs and preferences, we will continue to create new and interesting flavors, but we will also explore developing products with added benefits like protein, as well as added convenience to meet their on-the-go lifestyle.”