Anyone who has dipped a French fry into a milkshake or eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich understands a universal truth: Sweet and salty are great together.
And as the distinction between snacks and confections continues to soften, manufacturers are leveraging this classic combination to create new products and experiences that appeal to consumers in different ways.
“The lines used to be so static between what was a treat and what was a snack,” said Larry Levin, senior v.p. of thought innovation for IRI, a Chicago-based research company, during an Aug. 13 educational session at a ECRM Candy Planning event in Orlando, Fla., “Now those lines are blurring.”
He noted the ready-to-eat popcorn and caramel corn category has grown by almost 17 percent, while trail mixes and snack bars — which often pair fruit and nuts — have grown by 6.3 and 5.6 percent, respectively.
That’s not surprising to Brian Blanchard, North America managing director for pladis, DeMet’s parent company. He said pairing sweet and salty flavor profiles amplifies the benefits of each at the tasting level.
“When you combine a salty experience and a sweet experience, it makes it easier for a consumer to snack on it,” he said. “When you have a product that’s really sweet, after a few bites you start to get overloaded, satisfied and filled up. Salty snacks, as a general rule of thumb, have a lot more craveability to them. When you combine the sweet and salty experience, you create a product that is very craveable for consumers, very desireable.”
Flipz, DeMet’s chocolate-covered pretzel brand, takes those characteristics into account, Blanchard said.
“Part of what makes the Flipz experience unique — and I think this is some of the magic of making a great salt and sweet combo — is that the sweet comes first and the salt hit comes afterward,” he said. “That leaves the consumer with that finishing note that makes them want to go back and have another piece.”
Marrying sweet and salty may also make products more appealing at different times of the day. Salty snacks are often consumed in the afternoon, and sweets are often consumed at breakfast in the form of pastries or in the evening. So combining them covers all bases.
“Some of these new products allow them to be appropriate for different day parts and occasions than any of the heritage categories would’ve been by themselves,” he said.
Flipz are available in White, Milk and Dark Chocolate varieties, as well as Chocolate Mint and Birthday Cake. Earlier this year, DeMet’s introduced Flipz in Caramel Sea Salt — the granddaddy of sweet-and-salty flavor profiles and a gateway to more adventurous combinations, Blanchard said.
“A lot of the products that are in that profile really deliver quite a unique and delicious experience, but it’s also something that allows consumers to step their way into this idea of a salty and sweet combo without straying to something too exotic or too unfamiliar,” he said.
Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Edward Marc Brands also knows the value of innovating through comfortable, accessible flavors. The company has seen success with its Snappers brand, which features clusters of chocolate, pretzels and caramel or peanut butter. The Caramel Macchiato flavor, launched earlier this year, also earned a nomination for the National Confectioners Association’s Most Innovative New Product Awards in the Sweet Snacks category.
Edward Marc has also launched a miniature version of Snappers, which earned ECRM’s and Candy Industry’s 2017 Kid’s Choice Award in the Best Chocolate category.
“When we created Snappers we wanted to make something people enjoyed and enjoyed sharing with their families,” Edward Marc Co-CEO Dana Manatos told Candy Industry in March.
While sweet and salty is popular as an individual phenomenon, it has also been subject to the premiumization and clean-label trends seen across the candy and snack industries. Phil DeWester, v.p.of marketing for Florida-based Las Olas Confections and Snack, pointed to coconut as a hot, health-minded ingredient, which is featured in Las Olas’ award-sweeping brittle, Anastasia Coconut Cashew Crunch.
“We make Coconut Cashew Crunch with a few simple ingredients, like shredded coconut, roasted cashews, real butter, brown sugar and sea salt,” he said, noting it’s available in Original, Chocolate Drizzle, Jamaican Rum and soon-to-be Key Lime flavors.
And as the sweet-and-salty trend continues to gain strength, DeWester said he’d like to see a dedicated section for these snacking products in the confectionery aisles of grocery stores and other retail channels “to make it even easier for for consumers to find the sweet and salty treats they love.”
Consumers would likely hope that doesn’t come with a grain of salt.