Snacking is an American pastime; whether snacks are shared among family and friends or eaten solo, served as a filler in between meals, or are purchased impulsively, snacks are an everyday part of most people’s lives.
So it’s no surprise that snack sales at c-stores continue to climb, driven by the salty snack segment. As health consciousness continues to grow as a trend, some c-stores are adding healthier snack options to meet increased customer demand.
“The demand for healthier snacks is very strong across all categories. We saw exponential growth last year and expect the category to continue its growth in the future,” said Mike Gilligan, owner of Gilligan’s Retail, which operates 12 stores in Arizona and Montana. “The categories we see customers trending toward for a healthier option are salty snacks and grab-and-go cold food.”
The healthy segment is showing steady growth at Gilligan’s even despite inflation. “Price-conscious customers are looking to spend their money on a snack that is good for them and has substance to maintain them between meals throughout the day,” he added.
Englefield Inc.’s Duchess’ 120 locations in West Virginia and Ohio are also seeing a number of customers looking for healthier snacks.
“We continue to see demand for the classic snacks, but a segment of consumers are looking for something that follows a diet trend. For instance, keto, paleo and low sodium or sugar,” said Nathan Arnold, director of marketing at Englefield Inc.
At FriendShip Stores, which operates 31 locations in Ohio, some customers are coming to favor healthier snacks too. Products that are gluten free, high protein, low sugar or with better-for-you ingredients are gaining traction.
The Salty Set
With salty snacks, the better-for-you trend is leading the growth of the segment at Gilligan’s.
“Customers are looking for healthier, no-sugar or low-sodium salty snacks,” said Gilligan. “We are seeing more and more products labeling themselves as added protein, plant based and gluten free. Customers are more health conscious and want a snack that aligns with their diets.”
Salty snack dollar sales rose by 18.6% at convenience stores for the 52 weeks ending June 18, according to the market research firm Circana. Unit sales also ticked up in sales by 3.2%, despite a 14.9% jump in price per unit.
At FriendShip, spicy is trending with salty snacks, as well as new flavors.
“We are noticing popularity in items with heat/spice,” said Natalie Goldsmith, category manager at FriendShip Stores. “Consumers like flavor, so any new flavor sells well, as people want to give it a try. Some items are also bringing citrus/fruit flavors with heat/spice. For example, Doritos Pineapple Habanero.”
Along with FriendShip, Duchess is showing salty snack purchases leaning toward hot and spicy flavors. “We also see unique flavor combinations being trendy right now,” added Arnold.
Gilligan’s, too, is noticing its customers searching for new flavors and designs. Innovations and limited-time offers are chief snack drivers.
Due to inflation, however, manufacturers are decreasing pack sizes, according to Gilligan. Although family-sized packs are also showing growth “as it offers a better price point for its size,” he continued.
At FriendShip, on the other hand, the single-serving size is gaining traction, since it’s easy to grab and go, has many options to choose from and still has a manageable price point.
Both private-label purchases and the single-serving size are strong for Duchess as well.
“While during COVID the family or share sizes became instantly popular, we are seeing most customers choosing an individual size,” said Arnold.
It seems that outside factors, though they may alter certain preferences, aren’t diminishing category sales for either salty or healthy snacks.
“Salty and healthy snacks continue to remain strong and a core part of our business. While units on individual subcategories may be waning, overall, the category remains strong,” Arnold said.
The same holds true for FriendShip. “Items that are quick grab-and-go options for consumers are in demand and sell,” Goldsmith said. “Whether it is a snack for work, school, sports, etc. The salty and healthy snack (segments) in convenience have options for everyone.”