Snacks. We dedicate entire grocery store aisles to them, raid the vending machine at work to get them, and, increasingly, replace entire meals with them.
Given these tendencies, it’s not surprising to see the category growing, And with growth comes innovation, which is good news for all the snackers out there.
Overall, sales in the salty snack category grew 4.32 percent over the last year, for a total increase of $21.3 billion in the last 52 weeks ending July 12, 2015, reports IRI, a Chicago-based research firm.
In fact, only two categories have decreased in sales. One is pretzels — and only slightly, at -0.62 percent. The category that’s leading the pack is ready-to-eat popcorn/caramel corn, with a staggering 16.48 percent increase in sales, the data shows.
The general popcorn and popcorn oil category hasn’t fared as well, with a -1.76 percent decrease in sales, the IRI data shows.
What the data points to is that popcorn in a convenient, ready-to-eat format meets the needs for a busy generation.
One company that’s making waves in the ready-to-eat popcorn category is SexyPop, an innovative popcorn that delivers a variety of exciting flavors. At 40 calories a cup or less, every flavor is made from non-GMO butterfly kernels, and has zero trans fats, among other perks.
Another trend that’s gaining traction is the tendency for snacks that previously were classified as either “sweet” or “salty” to now bend the rules and fuse both descriptors simultaneously. Which means more interesting flavors — and consumers are literally eating them up.
For example, one of SexyPop’s latest flavors, Pineapple Habanero, joins the ranks of other flavors that bend the rules of salty snacks or offer fresh takes on old favorites, like Bangin’ Cheddar and Brazilian Coconut.
And if these don’t sound awesome enough, the quintessential combination itself is offered in the UK — Sweet and Salty — which also happens to be a bestseller there.
“SexyPop is about confidence and empowerment and we’ve really connected with 18-39 year olds as our target audience,” says Robert Ehrlich, ceo and founder, SexyPop, LLC.
And that confidence can come from the quality of ingredients.
“We use a different grade of popcorn than everybody else. We’re air-popped whereas everybody else on the market uses fried,” explains Ehrlich. “That’s how we differentiate ourselves... we take a much healthier approach.”
But Ehrlich, who also founded the mega-popular Pirate Booty snacks, knows that the same crowd that goes for kale chips wants indulgence in their snacks.
And popcorn has that unique ability to cover all the bases.
“Unusual or unique flavors definitely have a presence,” says Garrett K. Smith, president, American Popcorn Co. “But, folks want their popcorn with butter. Hands down, butter accounts for the largest majority of the category sales, from low-fat butter to regular butter, from movie-theatre style to extra butter.”
For American Popcorn Co.’s brand, Jolly Time, products range from traditional to innovative. And for a more indulgent treat, Blast O Butter is a popular favorite.
But to appeal to the on-the-go snacker, new ready-to-eat bags of pre-popped popcorn are available in Kinda Sweet...Kinda Salty, including White Cheddar, and Sea Salted. With calories ranging from 120-130 per bag, they offer the full package — fast, tasty, low-calorie snacking.
With 101 years of popcorn experience from the fourth-generation, family-owned business, it looks like Jolly Time gets it right.
The Popcorn Factory has also found many of the same trends to be true.
“Consumers are looking for healthier snack options, as well as products that meet special dietary needs or preferences including gluten-free and non-GMO ingredients,” says Alan Petrik, coo, The Popcorn Factory. “The ready-to-eat popcorn category meets many of these trends, as we have seen a surge in ready-to-eat popcorn sales in the past three years.”
He adds that in addition to healthier options, consumers are also looking for unique flavors.
“The Popcorn Factory offers a wide variety of flavors to meet these needs, including: Bacon Cheddar, Cracked Pepper, Jalapeno, S’mores, Butter Toffee Almond Pretzel, Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt,” he says.
In fact, some of the newest flavors go even further in the quest for the sweet and salty combination — Dark Chocolate Cherry Cordial, Pumpkin Spice, and Birthday Cake.
Of course, there’s more to life than popcorn. Other salty snacks, particularly those that branch out into the sweet side of things, are spreading throughout the market.
For example, Fannie May’s limited-edition Cajun Kicker Snack Mix combines spicy nuts, rye crisps, pretzels and more. Fannie May, which is a sister company to The Popcorn Factory, also offers assorted nuts and cashews, among other items.
“Fannie May Fine Chocolates offers a variety of treats that meet customers’ savory snacking needs,” says Kevin Coen, president, Fannie May. “Some of the brand’s salty treats include Fannie May Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Cashews, Fannie May Chocolate-Covered Pretzels, Fannie May Assorted Nuts, Fannie May Salted Cashews, and Fannie May Sea Salt Caramels.”
In the end, what consumers want has become a delicate balance between salty and sweet, healthy and indulgent, unique and classic.
But overall, as Ehrlich points out, “Snacks have exploded. People are realizing that meal replacement and anything that can get you through the next three or four hours is what they want.”
Among other trends, according to Ehrlich, are spices as preventative medicine (such as turmeric), crickets as a form of protein, and non-GMO products.
It looks like snacks are going to continue to provide energy for the fast-paced lifestyle while simultaneously introducing flavors that satisfy even the most daring of taste buds.