C-store customers continue to demand healthier snacks with clean labels, and products are evolving to satisfy today’s snacker. Hispanic snacks have hit the mainstream, appealing to both the growing Hispanic American population, as well as the young consumer overall, regardless of ethnicity.
These trends are underscored by growth of the snacking industry as a whole.
According to market research firm Packaged Facts, U.S. demand for salty snacks at the manufacturer level is forecast to grow 3% annually from 2017 to 2022.
Cara Brosius, research analyst of consumer and commercial goods, MarketResearch.com, said demand for salty snacks is growing because of the “snackification” of American diets.
“Most consumers snack multiple times each day, and a growing number are replacing entire meals with snacks or eating snacks with main meals,” Brosius said.
To take advantage of this shift and optimize profits, c-stores must make sure they’re offering what consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, really want.
“Gen Z and millennials are especially driving growth in the category, as they have fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyles that demand portable and ready-to-eat foods,” Brosius said.
In order to appeal to young consumers, she said c-stores need to stock more snacks that provide health benefits, such as added protein and plant-based ingredients.
“Young people, who are the most likely to want better-for-you foods, are increasingly doing more of their grocery shopping at convenience stores,” said Brosius. “Convenience stores are stocking more fresh produce to entice this demographic, and they should also sell more healthy snacks for the same reason.”
Brosius cited plant-based snacks with ingredients that are often thought of as ‘superfoods,’ such as Brussels sprouts, jackfruit, moringa, turmeric, asparagus and spinach, as well as products that replace traditional snack ingredients such as corn and potatoes with peas and lentils.
Daniel Moran, category manager for Rotten Robbie, with 34 stores in Northern California, said the chain makes an effort to offer better-for-you snacks, which he said are mixed in amongst the traditional products, thus relying on the packaging “to call itself out.”
“Clean labels have been trending for a few years now, and that’s carried over to salty snacks as well,” he said.
Some companies are taking this a step further.
For example, Kettle Brand potato chips introduced a “Tater Tracker” feature on its website that allows consumers to input the product code on their bag of chips to track the farmer who sourced the potatoes used in that particular bag.
“Transparency efforts such as sharing lists of suppliers, QR codes with further ingredient and supplier information, and blockchain technology used to track ingredients throughout the supply chain will become more common in the snack market,” said Brosius.
Mike Nelson, senior category manager for Plaid Pantry, which operates 108 c-stores in the Pacific Northwest, said, “The more, the better,” in terms of clean labels.
“Chips and ‘chip-like’ products continue to be strong,” he said. “We have brought in kale chips, beet chips and other veggie-based items, with mixed success.”
But, he said, the newest innovations in salty snacks seem to be the flavors.
While Brosius said the biggest trends in salty snacks are health-related, many c-stores have seen the growth of Hispanic flavors, too.
The U.S. Census Bureau expects the Hispanic population to reach 106 million by 2050 — a 57% increase from 2015. Hispanic people are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S., and their buying power is growing quickly, as well.
According to a June 2018 report from Chicago-based market research firm IRI, Hispanics spend more than $94 billion on consumer packaged goods per year.
But it’s not just Hispanic consumers who buy these products. Forty-eight percent of millennials have eaten Central or South American foods in the past three months, according to Mintel’s “Defining Ethnic Food” report.
“Hispanic salty snacks and flavors have been growing for us for a few years now and are doing well in 2019,” said Moran. “Some of the larger brands are getting creative with innovation, as well, which I like to see.”
He added spicy snacks are especially popular among Rotten Robbie customers. “I don’t know how they eat some of the stuff we sell,” he said of flavors that are too spicy for his palate, but in high demand among customers.