Today’s customers are not only reaching for tried-and-true salty snacks, they’re also seeking out healthier options that are all-natural, low-sugar, non-GMO and/or contain no synthetics or artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.
C-store retailers report growing both indulgent and healthy snack segments to attract customers.
“The rates at which consumers reach for both healthy and indulgent snacks reflect their ongoing quest to balance divergent needs,” noted Blaine Becker, senior director of marketing for Bellevue, Wash.-based The Hartman Group Inc. Among the most frequently consumed snacks, he added, are those that support physical health, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, snacks low in undesirable ingredients or high in nutrients, and those that support mental well-being.
Alyssa Hangartner, flavor and ingredient trends analyst for London-based Mintel Group Ltd., noted that more than half of consumers prefer simple, basic flavors, which can serve as a foundation for a snacks portfolio.
“Innovate through premium upgrades or nuanced versions of classic flavors to stand out in the crowded snack aisle,” she advised. “Alternative snack ingredients such as legumes, beans, seeds and vegetables can deliver texture, added nutrition, and of course flavors that can be good carriers of diverse seasonings to provide consumers with their ideal balance between health and indulgence when snacking.”
Off the Wall
Knowing just what customers are looking for takes a c-store halfway to the goal line.
“In the snack department, I am trending toward the items that can provide trendy and off-the-wall flavors,” noted Howard Magee, director of fuel management, operations and category management for The Carioca Co. in Phoenix, which owns and operates convenience stores throughout Arizona. “That includes anything hot — ghost pepper, habanero, Tabasco, etc.”
Carioca’s assortment also includes flavors like Korean barbecue, wasabi, Sriracha and salted carmel.
“Anything unique, I will give it a go,” Magee added. “Pork rinds, popcorn, chips, nuts, jerky. … These all have crazy flavors — something different for everyone.”
Jessica Catanzaro, director of purchasing for Green Valley Grocery, which operates more than 60 stores in the Las Vegas area, said her customers are snacking on Takis Waves chips, fresh sandwiches, fresh chopped fruits and yogurt parfaits. The retailer’s job is simple, she said: “Keep them in stock.”
Meanwhile, Sam Odeh, founder and CEO of Power Buying Dealers (PBD) USA Inc., of greater Chicago, which includes 25 owned and franchised locations in Illinois, Georgia and Florida, noted his stores are continuing to expand their healthy snack bars section.
“Consumers want variety and constant new stuff. There is no loyalty to any item,” he said. Sales are being driven, at least in part, by careful merchandising and pricing that emphasizes value. In the absence of further disruption, Odeh predicted, both parts of the snack category — indulgent and healthy — should see more growth.
Chips are the top-performing product category within salty snacks for Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s more than 475 c-stores, according to retail food buyer Dragana llic. “Flavor innovations are key to continued growth in this category. Top brands include Frito-Lay, Pringles, Kettle and Takis.”
In the military as elsewhere, shoppers became more health-conscious during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Exchange is stocking more better-for-you snacks that include protein and plant-based ingredients,” Ilic reported. “Nuts, seeds and trail mix continue to perform well, with sales up 8% over last year. Wonderful Pistachios, Power Up trail mix and Blue Diamond almonds are among the top brands in this category.”
Sports Spurring Snack Sales
“With the effect that COVID had on the market, consumers are craving sports more than ever, and the salty snack category took advantage of this,” reported Michael Pavone, president and CEO of Quench, a Harrisburg, Pa.-based food and beverage marketing firm.
Pavone and his colleagues see a lot of brands using sponsorships as a vehicle to spread messaging and break out in the space. Flavor remains the focus in product innovation as a way to generate news and tap into a younger audience.
“Flavor plus celebrity endorsements (combined) is also a shortcut to generating attention with consumers and retailers,” he said.
To ratchet sales up further, Pavone added, some convenience stores are investing in their online platforms, shoppable ads and click-to-cart to keep up with internet shopping behaviors and Amazon.