The great Nat King Cole might have been speaking directly to c-store operators back in 1963 when he sang, “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Those days of soda and pretzels and beer.”
Indeed, summer is the time for snacking. But knowing which salty, sweet and healthy snacks to stock and how to best promote and merchandise them remains a key task for c-store retailers.
Salty snacks have historically sold well during the summer months, as vacations and summertime activities call for convenient, grab-and-go foods. At the same time, product knowledge and education about healthy eating have changed and contributed considerably to the growth of the category.
Salty snack sales in the c-store channel totaled $6.3 billion, a gain of 14.4%, during the 52-week period ending May 15, 2022, according to IRI. Potato chips accounted for $1.9 billion in sales, up 13.7%. Tortilla/tostada chips racked up sales of more than $1.3 billion dollars, a 17.6% rise.
The Sweets & Snacks Expo in May found recent trends include more extreme flavors, so look for snack items to turn up the heat. Watch for fresh twists on classic favorites and more options in terms of package sizes and product types to fit every snack occasion.
“Popular snacks for summer are any that tie into outdoor activities like baseball,” said Tim Young, category manager for candy, snacks and edible grocery for Bardstown, Ky.-based Newcomb Oil Co. LLC, which operates more than 80 Five Star Food Marts in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.
“In seeds and nuts, popular brands are David’s and Bigs, and the flavors range from original to ranch and dill pickle,” he said.
Young added that he and his colleagues are also seeing the meat snack category continue to grow, as the supply of sticks has improved quite a bit over the course of the last year.
“Great summer snack brands are Combos, Cheez-It, Bugles and Pringles, to name a few,” Young said. “We are still seeing growth from protein items like Quest Protein Chips and Protein Poppers. Jerky is strong, and we are working on more bundle offers or ties to fuel with loyalty.”
Health does play a factor in customer purchase decisions, Young has found, though not as much as many might think.
“People are still loyal to their traditional brands, but we continue to look for healthier options for them to try,” he said.
On The Go
“All salty snacks such as chips, popcorn, puff snacks and more do well at AAFES stores during the summer months,” reported Dragana Ilic, buyer III for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), which operates 589 Express convenience stores and 122 main stores. “Nuts and trail mixes are also very popular as a healthy, on-the-go snacking option.”
Doritos are traditionally a best-seller, while Wonderful Pistachios and Power Up Trail Mix do well as healthy options, Ilic noted. “Hippeas are very popular as a healthy puff snack.”
Many consumers lead on-the-go lifestyles that demand portable and ready-to-eat healthy foods.
“They are more inclined to try new flavors and pay premium prices for premium ingredients,” Ilic noted.
Flavor preferences vary by location, Ilic noted. For example, Hispanic flavors tend to do better at Express stores in the South.
Customers are also paying more attention to labels, nutrition and healthy eating overall. As a result, better-for-you snacks have been trending at Express stores. Natural, organic, gluten-free or vegan snacks have all seen continued growth.
As consumers have become more health-conscious, Express stores have stocked more better-for-you snacks with added protein and plant-based ingredients, Ilic said.
Promotions are also driving purchases in the category. In June, AAFES featured a chips promotion for $1 off when shoppers purchased a roller grill item and single-serve bag of chips. The July and August promotion offers a free dispensed beverage with the purchase of a Doritos big bag.
Snacks are traditionally merchandised in high-traffic areas, endcaps and floor displays. Two-fer offers continue to do well, Ilic reported.
“Secondary and shipper displays have also provided a reliable lift in sales,” Illic said.