Crackers maintain far-reaching appeal. But while the category benefits from increased consumer interest in snacking, crackers have experienced intensified competition from other foods within salty snacks and beyond. Innovation with new and exciting flavors, textures and better-for-you ingredients will be important drivers of growth for the category.


Market data

The overall cracker category saw slight dollar sales growth of 0.3 percent, resulting in $7.4 billion in sales based on the latest 52 weeks ending May 19, 2019, per IRI, Chicago.

The “all other crackers” segment within the category grew 0.9 percent to $5.4 billion for the year. Segment leader Mondelēz International’s sales fell 0.9 percent to $1.6 billion, while No. 2 Kellogg Co. grew 1.6 percent to $1.5 billion. One bright spot for Mondelēz was its Nabisco Ritz Toasted Chips, which experienced significant growth of 121.7 percent, resulting in $73.6 million in sales. The dominant Kellogg’s brand in the segment, Cheez-It, grew 3.5 percent leading to $819.8 million in sales. Cheez-It Duoz saw another year of double-digit growth, up 10.5 percent to $77.5 million. Pepperidge Farm, a subsidiary of Campbell Soup Co., was up slightly 0.3 percent to $890.7 million. Its largest brand, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, was up slightly, gaining 0.2 percent to $574.7 million. Private label saw nice growth, up 4.6 percent to $233.7 million in sales.

Blue Diamond saw healthy growth for its Nut Thins brand, up 13.1 percent to $69.6 million. The TH Foods brand Crunchmaster also continues to gain ground, up 5.6 percent to $58.8 million.

The crackers with fillings segment experienced another year of declines, dropping 1.6 percent to $1.1 billion in sales for the year. That said, market leader Snyder’s-Lance, another subsidiary of Campbell Soup Co., continues to see growth, up 2.5 percent to $332.6 million for the year. The majority of its brands experienced growth, with Lance Toast Chee up 4.5 percent to $117.1 million, Lance Toasty up 5.1 percent to $71.2 million and its main Lance sandwich cracker brand grew 10.5 percent to $43.2 million. Ferrero USA also saw growth, with its Ferrero Nutella & Go line up 5.3 percent to $65.4 million.

Saltines fared slightly better this year compared to last year, up 0.4 percent to $497.1 million in sales. Mondelēz, the market leader with over 58 percent market share, drove the category performance via its leading Nabisco Premium brand, increasing a strong 5.9 percent to $289.4 million. While most other companies in the segment saw declines, Mexico’s Grupo Gamesa, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, grew 9.3 percent to $9.9 million. Organic also finds an audience in the segment, with Late July Organic Saltines growing 8.0 percent to $717,693.

The graham crackers segment dropped 1.7 percent to $413.3 million for the year, per IRI. Mondelēz, far and away the segment leader with its flagship Nabisco Honey Maid brand, saw a slight decline of 0.8 percent to $283.6 million in sales. Private label grew 0.9 percent to $74.1 million, and Kellogg’s saw the biggest percentage gain, up 7.3 percent to $28.9 million, largely aided by the significant growth of its Keebler Scooby Doo Graham Crackers, up 10.5 percent to $26.3 million. Gluten-free is also making some waves in the segment, with Schär USA seeing 20.9 percent growth for the year to $2.6 million.


Looking back

The cracker category is seeing growing consumer demand for healthier options, as well as interest in new and exciting flavor innovation, notes Janelle Crawford, strategic marketing lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “Aspects of this can be found in the prominence of ‘free-from’ claims like gluten-free, no artificial colors/flavors/preservatives, non-GMO, and free from other allergens. Consumers often perceive that their absence creates a healthier product. Alternatively, the addition of product elements plays into the healthy halo. For crackers, this looks like added nuts/seeds/grains, protein and fiber, all of which can also modify/enhance the taste and texture, too.”

In order to help preserve the nutritional value of the food, DuPont Danisco offers a range of plant extracts that provide natural flavoring, as well as antioxidative or antimicrobial properties. The antioxidants will extend shelf life by delaying the onset of rancidity and minimizing taste and color deterioration over time, notes Crawford. “Antioxidants also ensure consistent product quality from batch to batch and help preserve the nutritional value of the food.”

TH Foods, Inc., Loves Park, IL, which makes Crunchmaster crackers, notes that a top trend right now is functional products. “Consumers are looking to manage their health—mental and physical—from the inside out,” says Kim Holman, marketing director. “They are looking for functional ingredients to help in this endeavor. They are looking for ’gut health.’ Thus, fiber is a top need when looking for crackers. ‘Protein’ is also important, because consumers are looking for sustained energy and crackers that help them get that extra boost throughout the day or at specific times in the day. ‘Low sodium’ and ‘low sugar’ are primary concerns, too, as consumers want to manage their cardiovascular health and their weight.” The company recently introduced Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers in Ultimate Everything, playing off the trending “everything bagel” flavor profile.

Another trend of note is “diet sensitive” selections, notes Holman. “Consumers are also looking for crackers that are sensitive to their diet or lifestyle preferences. Even though the gluten-free craze has tapered off, there is still a significant number of consumers leading a gluten-free lifestyle. Paleo has emerged as a new lifestyle trend with grain-free crackers becoming most sought after.”

To address these trends, the company is launching a new line of Crunchmaster crackers. “Crunchmaster’s new Grain-Free line of delicious, crunchy, baked crackers uses cassava root along with coconut flour as its primary ingredients—both which are touted as superfoods,” says Holman.

Color can serve as a better-for-you differentiator, and Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, ND, continues to build on the success of its signature line of Suntava Purple Corn products. The ingredients are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and are brimming with anthocyanins, polyphenols and flavonoids. The levels of antioxidants and anthocyanins in the products have several health benefits. The ingredients are available in whole, raw forms, as well as flour, meal, grits and flakes. Most recently the company has added extract powder and a smaller grit size to its portfolio.

Crackers can provide a great canvas for new and exciting flavor and ingredient innovations. While cheese remains the leading flavor, new bold and ethnic flavors are entering the category—for example, spicy Buffalo, wasabi and sriracha. According to Jennifer Tesch, chief marketing officer, Healthy Food Ingredients, this includes using ingredients in unique combinations, such as pairings of sweet/spicy and savory/sweet, along with the use of out-of-the box grains, such as sorghum, millet, buckwheat and flax for gluten-free products.

Texture is another important attribute of crackers, with thin and crispy becoming more prevalent. “Formulations are changing to develop healthier products with differentiated eating characteristics, says Brook Carson, vice president, product development and marketing, Manildra Group USA, Leawood, KS. “The right ingredients are necessary to meet new consumer demands while maintaining product integrity. With modern, high-speed processing, better efficiencies with reduced loss is critical. Obtaining the right dough rheology is key. Wheat proteins are helpful in obtaining the right balance of tolerance and extensibility, all while maintaining product strength to reduce breakage and loss.”

Manildra Group USA recently launched two new products to help meet these goals. GemPro Extend is a vital wheat gluten that contains 75 percent protein to provide greater extensibility. It’s ideal when adding gluten for product strength, something that can negatively impact processing. GemPro Extend provides relaxation and sheeting without losing stretch and tolerance. GemPro Prime-E wheat protein isolate has 90 percent protein. This new ingredient imparts extensibility to dough systems, improving the machinability and relaxation of the dough, while enhancing texture and protein content.


Looking forward

Competition for snacking occasions will continue to increase. So it will be important to continue to innovate and differentiate product offerings.

“While it will always be challenging to innovate and grow in a saturated marketplace, healthful eating as an overarching trend is far from over,” says Crawford. “The crackers category is well positioned to continue leveraging free-from and fortified claims that drive growth and acceptance with consumers.”

Crawford notes that protein-fortified foods have been part of product development for several years, and now the industry is listening to consumer desire for plant-based protein. “This overall trend is just starting its rise. Look for this area to become more active going forward. With many Americans consuming far less fiber than the recommended amount and with the natural fit for fiber in baked goods, watch for more manufacturers to get ahead of the curve on incorporating and claiming fiber in the cracker category. They’ll be well positioned for success,” she suggests.

“I think you will continue to see consumers wanting more out of their snacks, looking for products that drive health from the inside out—whether that’s new grains, grain-free or better for you inclusions,” says Holman. “I think we’ll see even more functional benefits coming to the cracker category—whether that’s collagen, protein, fiber and other ingredients. Breaking through the noise will continue to be a challenge in the cracker aisle.”