Crackers share a direct lineage with bread, finding their innovative genesis as a tool of necessity. The notably long shelf life of crackers makes them a resilient go-to food staple throughout the past two centuries.

Today, available retail cracker options range from supremely straightforward to highly seasoned, attention-attracting stars. The former simple snacking stalwarts often yield the attention to their accompaniments, such as meats and cheeses, or accent comforting soups and stews. And the latter category of cracker options today are often standalone snacks in their own right.

That self-supporting star status has long accompanied our enduring and category-leading snack crackers, which these days are seeing new levels of boldness across a wider set of consumer demographics.


Market data

The crackers category saw a nice rebound in sales over the past year following flat results from 2020–2021. According to IRI, Chicago, the overall crackers category grew 6.5% to $8.4 billion in sales for the 52 weeks ending April 17, 2022.

While every cracker segment saw growth, the crackers with fillings segment had the best year, up 9.5% to $1.1 billion. Two standout performers included Nutella-filled Ferrero brand crackers, up 29.5% to $132.6 million, and Keebler filled crackers, up 35.4% to $118.2 million. Branded products are showing strength in the segment, as private label crackers with fillings dropped 23.4 percent to $33.1 million.

The expansive “all other crackers” segment leads the category in terms of total dollar sales, which grew 7.0% to $6.2 billion for the year, per IRI. The Kellogg Co. brand Cheez-It—the 2022 Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery “Snack Producer of the Year”—had a strong year, up 13.2% to $1.3 billion. The Campbell Snacks Goldfish brand also had an up year, increasing dollar sales by 10.3% to $1.1 billion.

Graham crackers also saw growth for the year, up 1.5% to $513.1 million. Kodiak Cakes, which offers whole-grain products, saw the highest sales increase, up 57.1% to $13.5 million.


Looking back

Snacking occasions—and tastes—have seen some shifts of late. “Whether at home, the office, or on the go, we know that consumers have continued to seek out desirable snacking experiences over the past few years,” reports Campbell Snacks. “To address ever-changing consumer preferences and drive relevancy, we’ve expanded our classic offerings consumers know and love by leaning into bolder, more-flavorful varieties.”

This desire for taste adventure opens opportunities to partner with brands long connected to bold flavor. “One of the biggest trends we’ve seen in the category is brand collaborations and limited-edition partnerships that not only offer fans new flavor experiences, but elevate brand presence and break through to unmet audiences and new verticals,” says Campbell Snacks. “For example, we collaborated with McCormick & Co. to launch Goldfish Frank’s RedHot in April 2021 and then again for OLD BAY Seasoned Goldfish in May 2022.”

Inspirations often come from core brand loyalists. “Goldfish found that fans had long-been sprinkling OLD BAY’s magical blend of 18 herbs and spices on each handful of Goldfish, and as a result, OLD BAY and Goldfish teamed up to introduce OLD BAY Seasoned Goldfish.” The OLD BAY Seasoned Goldfish crackers are saltine-based, seasoned with OLD BAY’s popular spice blend including black pepper, paprika, celery salt, and red pepper flakes.

Initiatives to reach new audiences sometimes reach beyond food into cultural directions. “Nineties nostalgia is also incredibly popular right now, particularly with younger consumers, which inspired us to create our version of the ’90s snack with Goldfish Jalapeño Popper and partner with JNCO jeans, an iconic denim brand from the ’90s, on limited edition Goldfish Jalapeño Popper JNCO jeans,” says Campbell Snacks. “An intersection of ’90s flavor and ’90s style, the jeans finally explain JNCO’s signature large pockets: They were made to hold bags of Jalapeño Popper Goldfish.”

This market strategy brings a diversely emotional connection to the brand. “The partnership with JNCO allowed us to tap into culture and launch limited-edition Goldfish Jalapeño Popper crackers in an exciting and relevant way that resonated with our target audience,” says Campbell Snacks. “By evoking emotional connections, such as nostalgia, our brands continue to reach new audiences and unexplored territories.”

Bold flavors do not always exclusively equate to aligning with youthful demographics. “As we develop new flavors, we continue to be inspired by consumer feedback and trends with the hopes of continuing to broaden our audience to unlock new levels of growth for our brands, and of course bring unexpected and innovative flavors to the market,” says Campbell Snacks. “The Goldfish brand has taken steps to challenge its traditional convention of just being a kid’s cracker to being a much broader all-family snack, with nearly 40% of Goldfish being enjoyed by adults.”

When Campbell Snacks looked to social media for insight, “hot” was the No. 1 requested Goldfish flavor by fans, receiving 63% of requests according to social listening data. “With over 35K fan requests for a hot variety of the classic cracker, Goldfish looked to the brand that knows hot best.” The Goldfish brand brought the heat with Frank’s RedHot limited-edition seasoned crackers to appeal to a broader adult audience. Frank’s RedHot crackers are made with the classic hot sauce ingredients, including notes of vinegar for acidity and a premium blend of aged cayenne peppers for the perfect blend of flavor and heat.

Other recent new product introductions across the cracker category include:

  • Goldfish Mega Bites Sharp Cheddar and Cheddar Jalapeño—Mega Bites are 50% bigger than regular Goldfish crackers to deliver a mega-indulgent snacking experience with a robust Cheddar flavor and a crispy, flaky texture that adults crave
  • Cheez-It Snap’d Scorchin’ Hot Cheddar, a limited-time offering baked with 100% real Cheddar cheese and featuring fiery heat, garlic, and savory umami flavors
  • Cheez-It Puff’d, a craveable, new, puffy and airy snack made with 100% real cheese, with a cheesy, crunchy outside layer transforming into a melt-in-your-mouth, indulgent taste, in flavors like Double Cheese, White Cheddar, and Scorchin’ Hot Cheddar

For its 90th anniversary, the Kellogg Co. Club Crackers brand tapped into the sweet and savory trend to introduce a new flavor to its fan-favorite Club Crisps lineup: Club Crisps Sweet & Salty, the first-ever sweet and savory flavor within the expansive Club Crackers portfolio. The new wavy crisps are baked light and thin, offering a balance of sweet, caramelized sugar and savory pop of salt that blend with the crackers’ rich buttery base. Club Crisps Sweet & Salty joins the existing Club Crisps lineup of Sea Salt and Ranch flavors.

Use of upcycled ingredients has begun to see more market traction. One new launch in the upcycled space is Seconds, a food brand on a mission to reimagine snacking, which announced an updated line of Carrot Crackers, in collaboration with Renewal Mill.

Seconds Carrot Crackers, which are gluten-free, are socially responsible snacks that seek to reduce food waste—a huge problem in the U.S., notes the brand, reporting that 40% of food goes unused in the U.S. each year. Seconds takes neglected carrots, mills them into a flour, and adds savory seasonings to create its crisp, upcycled crackers. Seconds crackers also make use of oat milk pulp, a processing byproduct. Seconds Crackers deliver 5 grams of fiber per serving and are a nutritious way to boost dietary boost intake of vegetables. Seconds is available in three flavors: Original Crunch, Everything Crunch, and Chipotle Ranch Crunch.

Snacks that meet diverse consumer needs continue to enter the market. New Keto Crackers from Cali’flour Foods are available in three flavors: Cheese, Sea Salt, and Italian Herb. The crackers have 6 grams protein and 2 grams net carbs. They’re made with cauliflower, almonds, coconut, and cheese.

The graham crackers segment continues to see more product diversity. Pamela’s Products has introduced a grain-free graham cracker. The certified gluten-free crackers are made with a flour blend of non-GMO almond flour, organic coconut flour, and organic cassava flour.

Mary’s Gone Crackers has also entered the gluten-free, non-GMO, organic graham cracker space. The company’s new line of sweet treats is dubbed Mary’s Gone Kookies. The low-sugar, graham-style snacks initially launched in Sprouts stores, expanding to additional retailers shortly thereafter. Mary’s Gone Kookies are offered in three different flavors: Honey, Chocolate, and Cinnamon.

Emotional connections factor can factor into ingredient sourcing strategies. Mary’s Gone Kookies sustainability sources its honey from GloryBee, founder of SAVE the BEE, whose mission is to protect Earth’s pollinators. A portion of Mary’s Gone Kookies sales supports this mission.


Looking forward

As we have seen in other snack categories, developing new cracker lines that accommodate the restrictions of people following low-carb, keto, gluten-free, grain-free, and other specialized diets offers an opportunity to reconnect with shoppers who have turned away from mainstream options—or in some cases, connect with them for the first time.

Crackers also serve as an ideal vehicle for on-trend and exciting flavors that appeal to a diverse range of palates—and snack occasions that now range across nearly the entire day. New cracker product formats have also opened the doors to new snacking opportunities.

Snack brands are also building emotional connections with their fan base, with considerations like ingredient progeny, sustainability, and more continuing to impact the path to purchase.

Moving forward, crackers will continue to serve as an apt reflection of current flavor trends across America, even occasionally taking a leading edge in advanced product format innovation and crafting unique sensory experiences.

Source: IRI Market Advantage, Integrated Fresh, Total U.S. - Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), 52 Weeks Ending 04-17-22