Good Health Veggie Pretzels
Veggie pretzels provide a unique, savory alternative to traditional pretzels and offer a variety of nutritional benefits.

Building on its base

For decades, pretzels have positioned themselves as the better-for-you (BFY) alternative in the salted snack aisle. However, with the proliferation of baked snacks and ­gluten-free munchies entering the market, many companies have expanded their portfolios with more healthful products. Utz Quality Foods, Inc., added more BFY products under its core Utz brand as well as its Good Health platform. One of its newest products, Good Health Gluten-Free Pretzels, contains whole grain brown rice flour that creates a crunchy, salty bite, said Kevin Brick, ­senior vice-president of marketing for the Hanover, PA-based company.

Meanwhile, the snack producer also rolled out veggie pretzels under the Good Health banner, said Jeff Martin, executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Utz. The snacks contain a panoply of nutrient vegetable pieces as well as Himalayan salt, which is known for its high mineral content and other benefits.

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

“It’s a savory style of pretzel,” Mr. Martin said. “It’s something different to give consumers a slightly more unique profile than a traditional pretzel.”

While BFY remains a powerful trend, the healthy snacking segment continues to be a moving target.

“Gluten-free is definitely a trend, but we aren’t sure how long that will last,” said Scott Green, vice-president of sales and marketing for Pretzels, Inc. “Clean label is huge. That’s going to grow. That is one area where consumers are educating themselves, along with organic products. Retailers and manufacturers have to be careful when using the descriptor natural, because no one has defined what ‘natural’ is.”

Gluten-free pretzel sticks
Gluten-free is a trend currently affecting the pretzel category.

While sodium may be perceived as a potential health concern, Mr. Martin suggested that it’s more of a consumer preference — or matter of taste — when it comes to pretzels.

“We see people who just want a little bit of salt on their pretzels, and then there are others who want a ton of salt,” he said. “In the pretzel category, salt is one thing people really pay attention to and notice. Consumers will buy a pretzel based on the amount of salt or the lack thereof. It’s a very personal preference in this category.”

To reach more consumers and drive impulse sales, many producers now offer seasonal and limited-time products. Snyder’s-Lance, Inc., came out with Oktoberfest pretzels this fall under its Snyder’s of Hanover brand. Crafted in the Old World style, each individually twisted pretzel is given extra time to rise before baking to create an item that’s crusty on the outside and airy on the inside. Snyder’s of Hanover also rolled out Halloween-themed peanut-free pretzels. For those with allergen issues, the company also produces pretzels in a peanut-free facility.

Snyder's of Hanover Oktoberfest pretzels
Seasonal and limited-time-only products add excitement and drive impulse sales in the pretzel category.

Overall, many snack manufacturers like Utz and Herr’s offer a complete line of regular and sourdough pretzel products that has sparked growth in the pretzel category along with innovation, new package designs and an emphasis on in-store displays to drive impulse purchases. Herr’s recently launched a Sourdough Pub-style thin pretzel that has a hearty crunch with a thinner twist than other sourdough pretzels.

At the same time, Mr. Clark said, newer pretzel formats such as crisps, crackers and sourdough extensions have brought new usages and more sophisticated tastes to pretzels, allowing them to be merchandised along the perimeter of the store adjacent to dips, spreads, cheeses and more that can accompany or act as a topping.

Herr's Sourdough pretzels
Classic pub-style sourdough pretzels remain popular with a broad array of consumer groups.

Many industry observers agree with Mr. Green’s ­assessment that the overall category is relatively flat, rising at 1 to 2% annually over the past several years. His assessment includes food service, contract manufacturing and other channels that might not be included in IRI, Nielsen and other scanning data. The extension of multiple snacking occasions throughout the day — coupled with the broader definition of what constitutes a snack — created great potential to alter the dynamic of the category.

“Our diets are changing. We’re snacking more often than we’re eating [meals],” Mr. Green said. “If you define what snack foods are, they include a much wider variety of items. They’re not just salty and savory. Before, chip companies were competing with chip companies, and pretzel companies were competing with other pretzel producers. Now, snacking and our lifestyles have changed. Snacking incorporates the vegetable aisle, the cheese department and anything else that is proportioned into small servings. We’re ­really redefining what snacking is. Before, people would open up a bag of chips or pretzels and go for a dip. Snacking is occurring all across the grocery store.”

Pretzels in deli section
Pretzels are popping up in the deli department and even marketed as accompaniments to hummus.

Various forms of pretzels, in fact, now appear in parts of the store where they never have been merchandised before.

“Pretzels are now in the produce section, the dairy department or deli next to the hummus dip,” Mr. Green said. “We’re in the candy aisle now with coated pretzels competing with chocolate candy bars and other sweet goods. We’ve never been there before.”