Snack sales are soaring once again. Salty snack dollar sales for the past year grew 7.2%, according to Nielsen data for the 52 weeks ending May 29, 2021, and sweet snacks dollar sales saw a 4.8% bump for the same period. Those bigger numbers may balloon even more, judging from what retailers are seeing.
“For us, the snack category right now is just absolutely on fire,” said Tim Young, category manager for Bardstown, Ky.-based Newcomb Oil, which operates more than 80 Five Star Food Marts in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.
Big movers in the sweet snack segment were cupcakes (with dollar sales up 13.2%), muffins (up 10.1%) and pies (up 12.2%). Those numbers don’t come as a surprise to Young.
“Really, from a sweet snack standpoint, Hostess is just crushing it right now,” Young said. “And I think that some of that has to do, clearly, with last year.” Young pointed out that the pandemic curtailed fresh bakery sales, and many consumers turned to the snack aisle for substitutes.
Look for that trend to continue. Young also pointed out that Hershey has invested in developing its Reese’s snack line and will up its game with a pair of products set for release later in the summer to go along with its snack cake release this past December.
Sweet and savory combinations are still grabbing consumers’ attention.
“Dark chocolate and salted dark chocolate are starting to pick up, I mean, in any category,” said Neal Frandsen, chief operating officer of S&G Stores, which has 63 locations in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. “We noticed it a lot even in the bagged salty,” he said, pointing to sales of “Turtle” salted-
caramel flavored Chex Mix.
While snackers are busy enjoying favorites, they’re looking for new tastes, too. After what seemed like a pandemic-driven lull in innovation, Young said that manufacturers are ramping up new flavor ideas. Frito-Lay is one of those, he said, with its flavor mashups for chips.
“So it’s a Lay’s chip that has the flavor of Cool Ranch Doritos,” said Young. Frito-Lay is also doing it, he said, with Funyuns and Cheetos flavors.
For Frandsen and S&G, salty snack sales have increased around 20%. He also noted strong performance by hot or fire flavors like habanero or chipotle across bagged salty snacks. Manufacturers are offering plenty of options, too.
“Everyone’s chasing each other with the hot flavor profile,” he said.
If any snack product says “hot,” it’s Takis chips. While Takis is doing well for Five Star, Young noted that Takis is also experimenting with innovation like cross-branding, having lent its chip flavor to Cattleman’s Cut meat sticks.
Another big seller for Young is the Quest Protein Chips line, which he moved from his breakfast/energy display to the standard chip set because its flavor options make it a better fit there.
“The one flavor was a nacho tortilla chip, and the other one was a loaded taco — which is absolutely great,” Young said. “It just made more sense to get it in line with snacks. It is doing exceptionally well.”
Young also offers Quest’s protein bars, which he said are also selling well.
“Health and energy bars right now are up for us,” said Young, citing a brand he brought in called Alani Nu, with protein bars he called “absolutely amazing.”
There’s plenty of competition for that healthy bar space, too. And with good reason.
“The natural bars are selling 2:1,” Frandsen said, adding that he’s noticed consumers are starting to shy away from some of the higher-sugar products. “The ‘healthier-for-you’ nutrition bars are starting to pick up, and the high-protein bars are starting to pick up now, too.”
But with innovation in the pipeline in form and flavor, retailers would do well to keep some simple and familiar products on the healthy shelf, as well. Like popcorn. “SkinnyPop is doing exceptionally well for us. The (Angie’s) Boomchickapop, too,” Frandsen added.
Still, as manufacturers search for new ways to please customer palates, retailers need to keep up with that activity by keeping snack sets up to date.
“You’ve got to always stay fresh in innovation,” Frandsen advised. “So you’ll always be doing pull-and-plugs on a weekly basis, or at least on a bi-weekly basis, where you pull out something that’s not moving and you plug in something with innovation.”