Frito-Lay, Kellogg’s/Keebler and Kraft head the list of top performers in the packaged snack category, according to 84 category buyers representing 12,600 convenience stores. Honorable mentions in the category were Jack Links Beef Jerky, Nabisco/Planters and Lance.
The 84 chains reported more than $456 million in packaged snack sales last year. The category proved to be one of the most active for sales presentations to retailers. Of the respondents, 33% said they were visited by five or more companies in the past two months. Another 24% said sales presentations were made at company headquarters by three or four companies in the same period. Eighteen percent reported no sales visits, however.
Consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious and the trend is carrying over to the snack segment. An IRI report in February focusing on trends in consumer packaged goods showed that consumers are now routinely weighing health implications when purchasing packaged food and beverages.
Consumers are looking for more "functional" foods, essentially trans-fat-free items that contain specific ingredients to deliver specific health benefits, such as digestive-health items, antioxidants and immunity-boosting products.
The IRI report revealed eight critical trends affecting retailer and manufacturer growth this year, ranging from the evolving role of food and beverages as "health solutions" to consumers’ focus on multi-tasking, time-saving and "do-it-all" products.
The report found new energy delivery systems, everything from caffeine-infused snack products to natural herb-formulated foods and beverages, will be the hallmark of new product growth across numerous categories.
Some retailers are cautiously optimistic. "Manufacturers started pushing low-fat, baked and trans-fat-free snacks, but salty snack sales have nothing to do with health," said Tim Grossi, category manager for La Plata, Md.-based Dash In Food Stores, which operates 35 Mid-Atlantic units. "I think the traditional snack customer will buy a salty product if that’s what they want, trans-fats don’t effect their purchases. Manufacturers are using it as a selling point rather than making products healthier. If I want a salty snack, trans-fats won’t stop me from buying a traditional meat or salty snack."
Manufacturers could do a better job introducing wholesome snack foods, Grossi said. "In my opinion, there are not enough healthy snack alternatives," he said. "By reducing saturated fat and trans-fats, there are still a lot of calories associated with the traditional snack. We still have a lot of room to grow (or slim down)."
Twelve million people drive the Massachusetts Turnpike a year, and with 11 franchised Exxon Tiger Marts peppered along the stretch of highway, Gulf Oil is perfectly placed to serve every one of them. The company stocks a wide array of salty snacks to satisfy almost any craving.
"Pretzels were a big portion of healthy snacking because they’re low-fat. Then you watched Frito-Lay introduce Baked Lays. Now it’s the elimination of trans-fats," said Terri Murray, general manager for Gulf Oil. "We serve such a wide array of customers everyday, from vacationers looking for indulgence to business commuters that want something quick, but not necessarily ‘bad for them,’ that we have to offer it all. We want to make everyone happy and still grow our business."
The company doesn’t devote a ton of attention to stocking the "healthiest" salty snacks, but with its focus on variety, it’s Fbeen feeding hungry customers a better-for-them treat, and the customers probably didn’t even realize it.