According to a 2013 SymphonyIRI Group report, sales of snack nuts, seeds and corn nuts rose 10.9% in 2012. Crackers and salty snacks grew by 6.7% and 4.2%, respectively, in the same period. That year, according to the same report, private label salty snack offerings gained 0.2% market share. Meanwhile, consumers showed a susceptibility to price fluctuations. At the same time, consumers have increased the range of hours in which they snack, increasing both frequency and diversity of snacking choices. These snackers are looking for products to deliver health benefits. In fact, a recent ConAgra/SuperMarketGuru report on 2014 trends noted that “Better for You Snacking” was a key phenomenon, adding, “Healthy options are on the rise. Look for supermarkets to replace high-sugar, high-fat snacks at the checkout with healthier on-the-go offerings.”
In recent years, snack category growth has been driven by the rise of gluten-free diet options and a desire for healthy snacks. Overall, the snack category is “trying to break out of the standard salty snack that everyone’s used to and broadening horizons,” says AnnMarie Kraszewski, a food scientist at Wixon. “People are more specific and particular about what they want to eat these days. Everyone still likes cheddar and barbecue, but the projects we’ve had coming in have moved beyond that.” Kraszewski is seeing experimentation with “flavor mashups” that combine different types of flavors together, which attracts a younger generation of consumers.
Sharon Van Horn, senior applications technologist at FONA International, notes that complex, layered flavors are sought after. These include combinations of sweet, savory and acidic profiles, sweet and salty, and sweet and spicy. She adds that snack food manufacturers are retooling classic flavors to attract consumers, such as modifying a ketchup with a bloody Mary profile, a chip with a cheeseburger flavor, or combining a grilled cheese profile with bacon, caramelized onions or spicy pickles for additional sophistication. International flavors, too, are a key trend, says Kraszewski. While this trend is currently stronger in Europe, it is picking up in the United States.