When Americans are craving something crunchy, nothing satisfies like a bag of chips, pretzels or other salty snacks. Even the more health-conscious consumers are finding better-for-you versions of their favorite munchies to suit their tastebuds and lifestyles.
Over the past year, total salty snack dollar sales have risen 13% from $7.4 billion to $8.3 billion, according to a NielsenIQ Total U.S. Convenience report for the latest 52 weeks ending July 2, 2022. Popcorn and tortilla chips are leading the pack, both increasing 18.4% with pretzels coming in next at 17.8%.
At Nouria Energy’s 150 convenience stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, gross and dollar sales of traditional salty and better-for-you snacks have at least tripled, resulting in double-digit growth over the past year following a category reset and the introduction of new items, reported Meghann Eaton, category manager for salty snacks, beer, wine and liquor for Nouria. She pointed out that an increasing number of customers are gravitating toward products that combine saltiness with bold flavors for snacks they can enjoy even on keto, low-carb and low-sugar diets.
“We are finding and stocking more products that fit both criteria and customers are responding,” Eaton said.
Among the most popular selections are Wonderful shelled pistachios, Takis tortilla chips —“they’re on fire for us, tripling in gross and dollar sales,” Eaton noted — and popcorn. A new concept that is catching on is the baked 100% cheese nugget snack from Moon Cheese, she said.
Nouria’s proprietary brand of potato chips also sell extremely well. “They’re a high-quality product that we sell at a price of two for $2, less than the other brands,” she said.
With their better-for-you ingredients and bold flavors, Havsies Popcorn varieties, a higher-end line, is pushing all the right buttons with Nouria customers. The OG, with its combination of spice and sweet caramelization, and the Elote Mexican street corn variety are flavors that move exceptionally well.
Customers like to engage with products that have a story behind them. Eaton pointed to the example of Dot’s Pretzels, a family-owned business started by a woman in her home kitchen.
Eaton promotes the snacks on aisle signage, social media, the company’s website and Nouria’s app. She foresees launching more better-for-you salty snacks to display on end caps.
Changing Customer Palates
Vegan and organic versions of familiar snacks such as cheese puffs, potato chips in a can and tortilla chips (made with rice) are trending at Green Zebra’s three locations in Portland, Ore., said Lisa Sedlar, the company’s CEO.
That’s not surprising, she explained, because Green Zebra is known for its natural products and customers expect to find them here.
Among traditional salty snacks, kettle chips have the most enthusiastic following.
“Customers particularly like the unique limited-time offer flavors such as dill pickle, Korean barbecue and pepperoncini,” Sedlar said. “They love to try the new taste sensations, and we know that because flavored chips outsell the regular chips.”
Unlike a couple of years ago when burning hot was all the rage, customers’ palates have become more refined, she explained.
“They’re looking for more complex flavor sensations like Korean barbecue instead of just something that’s just mouth-burning,” she added.
Green Zebra aggressively promotes salty and better-for-you snacks, frequently partnering with vendors to offer price breaks.
“During Labor Day month we have a line drive on all our kettle chips, featuring a 20% off deal in that aisle,” Sedlar said.
She also uses case stacks — 10 cases stacked off the aisle to draw attention to the products. End caps also bring the snacks into the customers’ line of vision.