Mainstay stacks continue to reinvent themselves.

ARLINGTON, VA. — Against the monumental backdrop of the food and beverage industry, the spotlight continues to boldly shine on the snacking occasion, and it’s certainly appearing brighter than it has ever been in the past. Americans are snacking more frequently than any time in recent history — three, four, five and more times a day — and yes, morning, afternoon and evening.

That’s certainly inspiring snack producers to up their presence in 2016 with an all-star cast of crowd-pleasing performers driven to sustain as well as entertain in their aim to delight an increasingly broader fan base.

On stage left, the stars of today and possibly tomorrow — those other snacks and new age products — are surging in popularity, redefining the market and quickly becoming America’s newest culinary idols among millennials, boomers and those ever-important households with children.

Healthy snacks - seaweed crisps, apple chips
Alternative snacks are surging in popularity among millennials.

On stage right, the legends in the industry — those all-time favorites such as potato chips, pretzels, tortilla chips, popcorn, nuts, pork rinds and meat snacks — that continue to reinvent themselves in subtle ways to remain at the top of their game and blockbusters in the charts.

However, the magic comes on center stage where tradition and transformation play off one another to create a united assembly that’s drawing the attention of consumers of all ages, demographics and more.

For Tom Dempsey, president and chief executive officer of SNAC International, it all points to a healthy snacking industry that’s changing as consumer trends and the overall market evolve.

Tom Dempsey, SNAC International
Tom Dempsey, president and c.e.o. of SNAC International

“In any market-driven category, our snack manufacturers are reacting to what consumers want,” Mr. Dempsey said. “They want healthy, portable, convenient and on-the-go snacks.”

And consumers want to get them whenever and wherever they desire — whether it’s in the center of the store where snacks have been conventionally anchored or throughout the perimeter in the deli, produce or dairy departments where they serve as a supporting role to the main meal occasion.

“When I walk through a grocery store, the snack category is no longer restricted to the traditional potato chip, pretzel and tortilla chip aisle,” Mr. Dempsey said. “You have snacking items in almost every aisle that someone could use to satisfy a craving. Most companies are expanding their portfolios to take advantage of the widening snacking occasions that Americans are enjoying.”

When dealing with customers, snack manufacturers need to be ready for lights, cameras, action.

Retailers are constantly searching for new products — whether branded or not — to provide a little theatrical flair to the industry’s impulse-driven categories.

Snack aisle
The snack category is no longer restricted to the traditional potato chip, pretzel and tortilla chip aisle.

“There is still retail consolidation, and there are retailers looking for a point of differentiation, especially with their own private label brands,” Mr. Dempsey said. “There is a strong movement toward high-quality private label with a differentiated price point.”

In several ways, the robust innovation by several brand new businesses — or incubators, as they are often called — reminds Mr. Dempsey of the golden era when many now-established snack categories were born. The only difference today is many of these current “incubators” are partnering with established co-manufacturers and private label producers to get their new ideas to a wider market. Back in the old days, snack companies rolling out the first potato chips did it on their own, producing them for a local market, and more often than not, initially selling them to their neighbors through a family grocery store until they gained popularity.

“The exciting thing about the snack industry today is that it’s almost like it was 40 or 50 years ago,” Mr. Dempsey observed. “There are a lot of new companies with new ideas on what constitutes snacking and new products that are changing the way people think about the snacking occasion. They may be traditional manufacturers or they may be manufacturing products that are sold through these ‘incubator’ companies. The number and breadth of new products are just going to continue to grow every year.”

That’s especially prevalent in the breakfast or morning eating occasion where snacking was historically underserved and now provides a new opportunity for growth. In collaboration with SNAC International, I.R.I. provided new insights during a recent webinar on “How America Eats: 2016 State of the Snack Food Industry.” (Visit

Snyder's-Lance Quick Starts breakfast biscuits
Breakfast snacking inspired Snyder's-Lance's Quick Starts breakfast biscuits.

Specifically, children play the wildcard with the early daybreak — more than double the families with children snack in the morning compared with those with no children. Nearly 70% of millennials and 54% of those 18-24 are early-day snackers. Such a trend has prompted Snyder’s-Lance, Charlotte, N.C., to join the growing number of companies targeting this eating occasion with its Quick Start breakfast biscuits. The packs of filled crackers come in such start-of-the-day varieties as blueberry muffin, cinnamon roll, maple french toast, Everything Bagel, Greek yogurt and others.

Bill Hooker, Snyder's-Lance
Bill Hooker, vice-president of sales strategy for Snyder’s-Lance

“We know the morning daypart is critical for snacking, and this product, we believe, can be a meal solution in the morning,” said Bill Hooker, vice-president of sales strategy, Snyder’s-Lance. “It fits the trend of breakfast on-the-go. It fits the trend of something like Greek yogurt with a base cracker.”

For Snyder’s-Lance, which introduced more than a half dozen new products this spring, launching innovative snack rollouts isn’t something the company takes lightly.

“It’s very calculated,” Mr. Hooker said. “In fact, we almost have to reserve ourselves. You can get too far ahead and be out there by yourself. So we’re trying to be very methodical and calculated in our approach.”

In some cases, new product initiatives mean being more inventive — defined as taking creative approaches to already established products such as sandwich crackers or potato chips — instead of the often overused term “innovative,” which may mean jumping into a whole new product format that consumers are not familiar with at this time. As a result, those other snacks or “new age” products take a little more time and money to work their way into a mainstream mindset for consumers and result in repeated purchases on a regular basis.

Lays Do Us A Flavor
Positioning new products or flavors as part of interactive marketing, like Lay's Do Us a Flavor contest, may add energy to the snack aisle.

However, positioning new products or unique flavors as limited-time offerings — or as part of a social media and interactive marketing event as Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay has done in recent years with its “Lay’s Do Us a Flavor” contest — can add much-needed onstage energy to the center snack aisle.

Often chips, pretzels, air-popped and other snacks have served as role players in families’ homes for some of the nation’s biggest entertainment spectacles.

Jeff Martin, Utz
Jeff Martin, executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Utz

“Snack occasions have morphed into the ‘mini-event’ such as Super Bowl Sunday, Cinco de Mayo and Mardi Gras,” said Jeff Martin, executive vice-president, sales and marketing, Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, Pa. “Consumers look for snacks that are flavorful, fun and different to create these little events. Snacking has come a long way from putting a bag of chips in the kids’ lunch as part of the ordinary dietary routine. The snack industry has the license to get creative and do something innovative to meet demands for new and different products that add to the excitement of the snacking experience.”

Variety remains a show-stopper that everyone likes to see on a regular basis. I.R.I. data indicates that overall variety packs rose more than 5.4% mostly because they provide portion control and multiple snacking options for families — everybody can choose a snack they want.

“Our variety packs have something for everyone, and their popularity is reflected in successful sales,” said Chuck Tullis, senior vice-president, sales, Utz Quality Foods. “They are fun, engaging and relevant, and they are the type of product that gives retailers something to put out on the floor to entice consumers. It’s a win/win for the company, our retailers and ultimately, the consumers.”

Single-serve snack packs
Individual and single-serve sizes are proliferating in the snack market.

Packaging also has become an effective tool for targeting a plethora of distribution channels and consumer preferences. While large family packs remain a mainstay, individual or single-serve sizes are proliferating as they provide convenience that is integral to success in the snacking arena or as an accompaniment to the sub, sandwich and food service market that is growing at a slightly faster rate than retail, according to I.R.I.

For some premium products, such as chocolate-covered pretzels, snack nuts and trail mixes, resealability provides a convenient solution, allowing consumers to purchase a larger package of a product, then eat it in increments when they desire.

For SNAC International, the new name accurately reflects the state of the industry in 2016 and beyond. It’s about snack, nutrition and convenience, all wrapped around a global perspective.