How We Snack

Sweet, salty treats become meal replacement options

sweet salty snacks

Brought to you by Mrs. Freshley's.

All eyes used to be on the restaurant industry when looking for the latest food trends. But now, some experts are suggesting foodservice and retail operations scan the supermarket aisles to see how America is eating and how snacking is replacing meals altogether. 

According to Mike Whiteman, president of international food and restaurant consulting firm Baum & Whiteman, snacking increased 47% from 2010 to 2014 as people moved away from three meals a day to multiple snacks throughout. “Snacks are obliterating meals,” he says. “It's not just millennials or dashboard diners—a growing number of Americans snack four or five times daily.”

Sweet and salty snacks are booming in retail outlets across the country.  Of the $20 billion in packaged sweet snack sales in 2015, 13% was through c-stores, 47% through grocery stores and supermarkets, including chains and independents, and 27% through mass merchandisers, according to Packaged Facts. U.S. sales are expected to reach $23 billion by 2019. Similarly, salty snacks reached $22.2 million in 2015, with supermarkets accounting for 52% of U.S. sales. However, sales in convenience stores rose from 19% of total U.S. sales in 2013 to 21% in 2015, with $4.66 million in sales.

Already a popular snack destination, c-stores can capitalize on the snack movement by enhancing or expanding their sweet and salty offerings. The key is to get creative and to try out unusual flavor combinations to give consumers new flavor experiences.

Baked Sweets Thrive

While innovation from independent bakeries and increased sales from in-store bakeries continue to pressure the center of the store—where packaged goods live—chains such as 7-Eleven have successfully tapped into the on-the-go trend, enabling consumers to buy single-pack cookies and other sweet snacks, either packaged or freshly baked, when they stop in for coffee, soda, or breakfast and lunch items, according to David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

The firm’s report, Sweet Baked Goods: U.S. Market Trends, indicates trends are focused on new, exciting tastes and experiences with some consumers, especially younger people, looking for even more indulgent and decadent choices. The bakery snacks segment, consisting of cupcakes, brownies, and other snack cakes, represents 16% of total sales.

“Convenience continues to be a significant trend as busy consumers seek out minis, single packs and other products packaged for on-the-go snacking,” says Sprinkle. “Smaller-size products also appeal to the growing single or dual household segment, older people and consumers watching their weight or overall health.”

While many snack brands are working to provide innovative options for consumers, some are creatively working the sweet-and-salty flavor combination into their formulas. Flowers Foods says its Mrs. Freshley's peanut butter cupcakes, peanut butter Swiss rolls and peanut butter buddy bars are popular with convenience consumers who enjoy the traditional snack cake brand with a twist.

Salty Reigns

Sales indicate potato chips continue to be the big revenue driver in salty snacks, with strong growth in the ready-to-eat popcorn/caramel corn category. Also boosting the $22.5 billion category was a proliferation of flavors, from unique tastes to more traditional, including sweet-and-salty combinations on traditionally savory snacks such as potato chips and tortilla chips.

“While the sweet and savory combination has become inordinately popular, it is in fact simply part of a larger meta trend of enhanced flavorings that snackers are seeking,” says Sprinkle. “An explosion in terms of flavor profiles has hit the snack segment, combinations of tastes and spices that would have been virtually unthinkable even a decade ago.”

“These trends will continue to be crucial for marketers to embrace over the next five years, with the increasing number of snacking instances helping to push the salty snack market to $27 billion by 2020,” Sprinkle says.