While the focus of SnackEx 2013 was on private label and competition, SnackEx 2015’s spotlight has been on innovation.  From texture to flavor, ingredient to packaging, the conference, held in Instanbul June 10 and 11, was flooding with new products that were speaking to all five senses. Health and wellness themes, like naturalness, protein enrichment and gluten-free, were recurrent throughout the exhibition hall but the central dilemma remained: What is more important in snacks, health or taste?

Savory meets sweet

European sales of savory snacks have grown by around €5 billion (US$5.4 billion) since 2009 to reach €22 billion (US$24.1 billion) in 2014. This growth has been faster than almost anywhere else in the world but Asia Pacific. The big question for snacks companies today is how to build on that success going forward. Swavory, a catch-all term that combines sweet and savory, has been identified by manufacturers as one of the possible ways of pursuing this growth. “Savory meets sweet” was also this year’s theme of the European Snack Association (ESA), organizers of SnackEx.

In addition to the rather common flavors like chocolate and cinnamon, which PepsiCo introduced to the market as part of its “Do Us a Flavor Campaign” a couple of years ago, this year’s crisp innovations featured more exotic aromas such as caramel, coconut and lemon cupcake.  Popcorn companies were particularly eager to bring these new flavors to the masses. Sweet Coconut and Vanilla popcorn by Proper Corn and Lemon Cupcake Poshcorn from Tyrells were some of the most prominent swavory launches of 2015.

Spicier and gourmet flavors also loom large on the snack industry’s agenda. Benefitting from the rise of Mexican and Asian cuisines, ethnic hot flavors like jalapeno and chipotle were increasingly incorporated into crisps and tortilla chips. According to ESA, there was a 74% rise in ethnic-flavored snack launches globally over the past two years.

From weight management to stealth reduction

While taste is perhaps the primary consideration of snack purchase, healthy snacking is gaining ground with mainstream players like PepsiCo and Intersnack invested heavily in bringing healthier variants to their product portfolios. But it is not any kind of health. Better for you snacks, like reduced fat and reduced salt crisps, associated with weight management are losing their appeal, at the expense of natural or naturally-perceived variants that do not scream about health values but subtly communicate their health benefits. Manufacturers as well as consumers are no longer seeing potato as the only crisp option and diversifying their snacking to include alternative ingredients, like vegetables, pulses and grains. 

Pasta Foods, a manufacturer of pulses, is of the opinion that its long-term bet on pulses is finally paying off, thanks largely to demand for protein-rich snacks. According to Pasta Foods, the ingredient company has grown “a huge amount over the past three years.” Leng D’Or, which specializes in superfood ingredients, has tapped into other major trends by offering a gluten-free pellet solution, as well as showing off its first organic pellets. It has started trials of kale, as the vegetable is in high demand in the US, just like quinoa was a few years ago.

In fact, brassicas, which include vegetables like kale, cabbage and broccoli, are increasingly being picked by the snacks industry. Brassicas are packed with glucosinolates, which have shown to be protective against several types of cancer and chronic diseases. Also, they contain only one-third of the calories of potatoes and half of those of most other root vegetables. In addition, just like the majority of super grains, they are gluten-free. This makes these products particularly attractive for consumers who want to indulge in a healthier fashion.

Savory snacks keep growing because they provide pleasure, and unlike confectionery or cakes, they provide less guilty pressure. It is one of the leading examples in packaged food where brand investment seems to be working, as revealed by the relatively low and stagnating share of private label and increasing share and presence of smaller, niche players. Savory snacks industry has many lessons to teach to the rest of the packaged food world.

For further insight please contact Pinar Hosafci, food analyst at Euromonitor International, pinar.hosafci@euromonitor.com.