Brisk sales of chips and other fashionable snacks are helping c-stores salt away in-store revenue.
By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Editor
Snack lovers are always in search of the next new flavors and styles of chips, nuts, pretzels, popcorn, seeds and other salty snacks. For that reason, convenience retailers continually hunt for the next big flavor or format consumers will consider worth their salt.
Total U.S. sales of chips and dips grew 13% between 2012 and 2016, Chicago-based Mintel Group reported. In addition, salty snacks were up 24%, and nuts, seeds and trail mix increased 28% during the same period. These stats aren’t surprising given Mintel’s more recent finding that about 94% of U.S. consumers snack at least once daily.
Within the convenience channel last year, salty snacks grew 6.5% in dollar sales and 0.7% in unit sales.
“Variety, flavors and convenience, as well as lifestyle, are trends that are driving growth within the convenience channel salty snacking universe,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader for client insights with Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a leading market research firm.
Variety: Top dollar growth segment drivers in the latest year were tortilla and potato chips, as well as popcorn, in flavors from mild to hot and spicy. A variety of forms are also gaining via wheat, potato and wheat, potato and corn, pork rinds and chicharrones. “We also see variety play a role with the growth of snack mixes and popcorn, with the flavor profiles ranging from sweet to savory,” Wyatt said.
Convenience: Snacks that can be eaten on the go are desired by 57 % of consumers, Wyatt reported. Growth has been witnessed in 2.6, 5.2 and 9.5-ounce packages of chips, as well as in re-sealable snack bags, she noted.
Lifestyle: Lifestyle ingredients are growing, but doing so off a comparatively small base, Wyatt said. Examining core snacking within multi-outlets plus convenience in 2017, functional, allergy and diet claims represented what she termed “the top increasers.” Among the latest trends is the use of Himalayan salt, “which helps drive the permissibility of many of the salty snacks because of its health benefits,” she reported.
Notable innovations reported by IRI about the category include the use of coconut in salty snacks, among other sweet-tasting ingredients.
“We also see caramel being used to drive the savory and sweet options while caramel is on trend,” Wyatt said. “Seasonal flavors and packaging have become a way to drive incremental sales during the holiday periods. Flavor expansions across sweet, savory, sweet and savory and blends continue to win. Although small volume today, protein chips have hit the convenience channel and appeal to some of [its] consumer base.”
Wyatt singles out for special mention bacon-flavored salty snacks as a continuing trend and egg white chips as a brand new trend now arriving at convenience retailers.
BETTER FOR YOU
A fairly recent trend has been the increasing public embrace of Better-For-You (BFY) snacks, which as a category grew by 18% from 2015-2017, Mintel reported.
However, the BFY category still faces headwinds; it’s not even within shouting distance of traditional salty snacks’ acceptance. Mintel’s September 2017 “Better for You Snacks” report indicated general snacking consumer behavior is “almost universal,” but BFY snacks are purchased by less than half of consumers, here or abroad.
Asked which snacks they had purchased in the past three months, a Lightspeed/Mintel survey of 2,000 respondents found 49% had bought BFY snacks, significantly trailing the 64% and 61%, respectively, that popped for nuts and traditional chips.
From her perspective at IRI, Wyatt reports healthier items’ impact on traditional salty snacks varies. For instance, a simple ingredient list plus a corn profile enables tortilla chips to enjoy a healthy halo of sorts. Tortilla chips are up 8.7% in dollar sales and 3.7% in unit sales within the convenience channel. Appealing flavors like salsa verde, tapatio hot sauce, chili and lemon and others also help stoke sales.
When it comes to merchandising chips and salty snacks within c-stores, Wyatt said anecdotal evidence suggests on-the-go consumers prefer “healthier snacks in one area and more indulgent snacks in another.”
Customers of Shout & Sack love their chips and salty snacks, according to Chris Carter, owner of the convenience retailer which operates along historic Rt. 66 in Vinita, Okla.
“Here in Vinita, Okla., it’s Frito-Lay, Frito-Lay, Frito-Lay,” I have 16 feet of salty snacks and it’s 100% Frito-Lay brands. I also have 16 feet of cheeses, cashew nuts and sunflower seeds.”
Another big seller at Shout & Sack is Andy Capp’s fries, a brand of flavored corn and potato snacks that are shaped to resemble French fries, and named for a comic strip character popular in 1960 comics, Andy Capp. Particularly popular with Shout & Snack patrons are Andy Capp’s Hot Fries and Cheddar Fries, Carter said.
During baseball season, Shout & Sack also sells a high volume of sunflower seeds. Fans of the seeds find them up near the cash register, on pegs in displays and in a barrel. “The top three flavors are sizzling bacon, ranch and dill pickle,” Carter said.
The same Shout & Sack customer is likely to go big for Peanut Trading Company’s Southern Fried Salted Peanuts, which Carter said comes in flavors that include Cajun, Garlic, Spicy Bay, Ranch and “BBQ.”
“I put them in my mouth and then crack them,” Carter said. “They all sell awfully good . . . I just happened to be going through my order book and decided to buy them. Travelers along Rt. 66 buy a lot.”
Carter merchandises his chips and salty snacks on the counter at all three checkout lines, as well as on end caps. He believes that his salty snack and chip sales benefit from his regular advertisements, not just on his store’s website and on social media, but via traditional advertising outlets like radio and newspapers as well.
In Lawrence, Kan., where Zarco USA is incorporating its barbecue-infused foodservice platform at its c-stores, CEO Scott Zaremba said a notable trend is an increasing assortment of flavors being unveiled in both chips and salty snacks. A continual parade of flavors like lime, jalapeño, ranch and different flavors of barbecue are appearing as “that industry continues to try to search out every taste bud available,” Zaremba said.