Snack makers fulfill salty cravings

Kettle Food is one of many snack makers testing new flavors with “interactive” marketing.

Consumers want it all from the salty snack category. They want products that satisfy a craving, but they want to feel good about what they are eating. They are looking for products that provide a healthier profile, and they want a steady stream of new flavors to tempt them.

No wonder chip manufacturers have been bringing so many new products to the market. Salty snack dollar sales were ahead more than 11 percent in drug stores for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 27, according to Information Resources Inc. Within that category, potato chip sales were up nearly 4 percent.

Kim Lopez-Walters, consumer strategist for food and beverages at Iconoculture, said that gourmet products made from exotic vegetables, such as Hain Celestial Group’s Terra Chips, are becoming more popular with consumers. Terra Chips has grown beyond its beginnings as a small specialty store brand and is being joined by major manufacturers who see potential in “healthier” chip options.

Last year, Frito-Lay launched Flat Earth, veggie and fruit-based crisps that one PepsiCo executive called the company’s response to “consumer demand for better-for-you options.” The product has been so successful it will be included in Information Resources Inc.’s list of most successful product introductions for 2007. Flat Earth crisps offer consumers a health benefit—each 1-ounce serving of the snack counts as a half serving of fruit or vegetables. That may qualify the chips as a functional food.

Corazonas Foods’ recent launch of Heart Healthy Potato Chips certainly fits under the functional umbrella. Corazonas’ chips, which join the company’s lineup of heart-healthy snack products, have 40 percent less fat than regular potato chips and contain plant sterols that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. The chips, which also are billed as a good source of fiber, are available in five “world-inspired” flavors.

“World-inspired” new flavors that turn up the heat are giving the chip segment a boost, and the trend toward bolder flavors is expected to continue. “We see a consistent trend in consumers demanding bold tastes,” said Michelle Peterman, vice president of marketing for Kettle Foods.

Shiela McCusker, editor of Information Resources Inc.’s Times and Trends Reports, said the trend toward spicier offerings is being driven by boomers, as well as younger consumers.

Procter & Gamble has had a number of hits with new twists on its Pringles brand. Pringles Select, which McCusker calls one of the most successful snack launches of 2007, is billed as a gourmet snack and is available in such exotic flavors as cinnamon sweet potato, Szechwan barbeque and crunch jalapeño ranch.

Pringles also recently introduced Stix (available in vanilla, pizza, crunchy wheat and honey butter) and Pringles Extreme (in kickin’ cheddar, screamin’ dill pickle and blazin’ buffalo wings).

Involving consumers in marketing is a tactic that has worked well for Kettle Foods, maker of Kettle Chips. For the past four years, the company has turned to consumers for product development by inviting them to help select introductions by voting for their favorite flavor. This year’s winner was Death Valley chipotle.

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