Packaged Snacks Hit Specialty Note

Trends in snacking helping to lure in that elusive new customer

By
Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

Jack Link's Small Batch line adds an artisan element to the brand's portfolio.
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Let’s be honest. Bubba is a great guy. He is hungry and thirsty and a reliable, all-around good fella. He works hard, plays hard and drives hard. But there’s something about his habits that has your eye wandering, looking for that fairytale character with a wider palate and deeper pocketbook. Let’s call her Alice.

“The convenience-store industry has been trying to pay more attention to Alice by bringing up the level of snacking in c-stores. If you want to call that artisanal, small batch, better for you—you can call it all of those things because it is,” says Tim Bradley, a partner at Open Road Snacks, Centennial, Colo.

“There’s a growing proliferation of upscale snacking,” says Ken Seiter, chief marketing officer at the Specialty Food Association, New York, which hosts the twice-yearly Fancy Food Shows. He attributes the trend to the growing sophistication of the consumer palate paired with the desire for daily indulgences while on a budget. 

The trend is rising from start-up artisanal companies taking on stalwart c-store snack types such as jerky and chips, as well as established CPG firms adding an artisanal flair to their legacy lines. It shows no sign of stopping, and c-stores are well positioned to ride the wave.

The Snack Attack Continues
All of this isn’t to say that traditional items don’t have a place on the snack shelf of the future. Americans’ appetite for all snacking is on the rise. More than 90% of U.S. households have eaten a salty snack in the past 30 days, according to a November 2013 report on salty snacks in the United States from research firm Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. Potato chips alone are consumed by 85% of American households.

The same study notes that better-for-you snacks are likewise on the increase: “As the salty-snacks category overlaps more and more with the healthy-ingredient snacks segment, small, independent, health-conscious marketers are gaining more and more influence over the direction of the salty-snacks market.”

Large manufacturers are indeed taking notice. Seiter says he often sees them browsing the aisles at the Fancy Food Show, hunting for the next big idea to steal and pushing specialty snacks further into the mainstream.

“The mass marketers are really starting to get on the case because that’s where the consumer is going,” he says.

Saved By Specialty
Open Road Snacks does 85% of its business in convenience stores. It targeted the industry specifically for its high-end snacks because it recognized that c-stores would begin to shift their focus from their core competency of fuel and cigarettes toward other products—and consumers—that may compensate for those lost sales.

“It was all a lot of talk until the c-store industry started to bump into some changing tobacco regulations and the buzz saw of the payment-processing issues that have denigrated their ability to make margin on fuel,” says Bradley.

It turns out that Alice likes to eat things that she perceives are good for her. According to Bellevue, Wash.-based The Hartman Group’s Eating Occasions Compass data, 53% of all eating occasions are snacks. And 56% of those eating the snacks consider “health” an important part of helping them determine what they eat.

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