Packaged Snacks Hit Specialty Note

Trends in snacking helping to lure in that elusive new customer

By  Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

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Open Road’s Bradley sees the success in his own product mix. The company’s No. 1 product is a white Cheddar popcorn—only marginally healthier than other snack options, but that’s not the important part: “In terms of quality it’s miles ahead. [And] popcorn being a whole-grain snack puts it to the front of the line. We just sell the heck out of it.

“The consumer demographic shift remains a fact of life, whether the tip of that sphere is better-for-you or craft or just better products. A slice of the c-store customer is looking for something different, something better, something new.”

The White Rabbit
Snacks are changing form as well as function. Nuts and seeds came into play in the c-store sphere big time in 2013. Flavors such as sriracha, kimchi, habanero and sea salt are almost as common on the c-store shelf as barbecue and sour cream and onion.

“Nuts obviously have been around forever, but [they’re] becoming next year’s biggest snack food,” says the Specialty Food Association’s Seiter. “We’re also seeing heat in a lot of different types of snacks. Sriracha was one of the major, major trends [in 2013], not only in savory but sweet as well.”

Following that white rabbit along with Alice are millennials, a generation raised with more sophisticated flavors and global food influence. They tend to read ingredients and look for words such as “natural” and “organic” on food labels. And the closer that snack was created in relation to the point of sale, the better.

“Local is really exploding,” Seiter says. “People want to know that they’re getting quality ingredients and where they came from. What I’m putting into my body is important.”

To that end, gluten-free continues to flourish in snacks as well as all product categories. Nearly $10.5 billion worth of gluten-free products were purchased last year.

“It was at first very specialized and now, five years later, you’re seeing it all over the place. You’re definitely seeing it in snacking,” Seiter says.

In Its Right Place
Properly merchandising craft and specialty snacks is as important as having the right product mix—if not more so, says Open Road’s Bradley. He believes that it’s nearly 80% of the battle to a successful specialty snack program: “It has to be nicely done, not overdone,” he says.

“There are convenience venues in which better-for-you might as well be put in the back of the men’s room,” he says.

“One single tool—the better-for-you hammer—is not going to work on every nail. Convenience stores need to find what that magic button is for their demographic, their geographic area, and then [commit to] it and do a good job around it. Then the new customer will come,” he says.

So it’s right place, right product, right flavor. Specialty snacks are something that even Bubba can get behind—after all, it’s just his regular go-to snack with a twist. And if you’re looking for Alice, you can find her there too, looking for something just a little bit different.                 

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