Snacking remains a popular and growing pastime with Americans—about 80% admit to enjoying at least one a day, 29% snack twice a day and 22% grab something to curb their appetites three or more times a day, according to research by CivicScience.
According to industry data, multi-snackers, who snack two or more times per day, rely on snacks because they are convenient—a good scenario for the c-store channel.
This trend bodes well for c-stores, which sold a whopping $4.8 billion worth of salty snacks in the 52-weeks ending Jan. 24, 2016, according to IRI. The convenience channel accounted for 22% of the $21.7 billion in salty snack sales across all retail channels.
“C-store salty snack growth outpaced industry average by a wide margin—6.1% in dollar growth versus 3.7% growth in all other multi-outlet locations,” said Susan Viamari, vice president of thought leadership for IRI. “Salty growth in grocery is 2.2% and in drug stores is 1.5%.”
Viamari pointed to cheese snacks and pretzels as top sellers in the convenience channel. In the 52 weeks ending Jan. 16, 2016, cheese snack dollar sales increased 10.9% over the same period last year, according to IRI. Comparably, pretzels generated a 9.6% increase in dollar sales over the same period. Potato chips boasted a growth rate of 3.8%.
She said other drivers of growth in the category are healthier options, with pretzels, ready-to-eat popcorn and tortilla chips all out-growing potato chips in terms of growth.
“The trend toward exciting flavors and strong textures can be seen in items like Cheetos Doritos, Ruffles Deep Ridged and the Cape Cod popcorn line,” Viamari added.
A recent General Mills poll of 3,000 consumers indicated that seven out of 10 U.S. convenience store shoppers buy salty snacks to boost their mood. Primary purchase motivators include the emotional appeal and the functional, like staving off hunger or pairing with a beverage.
For Mario Spina, CEO of the Pride Stores, based in Warrenville, Ill., the salty snack category in her 12 c-stores has remained steady with no surges or drops in sales.
“I’m not seeing anything new, but there are healthier versions of everything, including salty snacks,” Spina said. When it comes to merchandising, the chain follows the c-store biz adage, “If you don’t know what to put somewhere, you put chips there, since they’ll always sell.”
The convenience channel sticks with what sells, while supermarkets have more buying power and floor space and capacity to try more new items, Spina reasoned.
“We now have fat-free pretzels, but they were always fat-free, so this was more of a labeling change,” Spina noted. “We would like to incorporate more ‘healthy’ name brand items. With the exception of potato chips, salty snacks have a healthier connotation than sweet snacks, so that is a plus…and manufacturers are eliminating more salt in these products.”
According to CivicScience research, manufacturers are offering healthier salty snack options also.
Stay tuned to Convenience Store Decisions‘ March issue, where we delve into 38 in-store categories to identify emerging trends and garner retailer analysis to forecast what operators can expect for 2016 and beyond.