Chip purchases are nearly universal with 94% of respondents to a 2019 Mintel survey saying they bought some kind of chips in the past year. Consumers gravitate to familiar brands and tastes and perceive chips as an indulgence, which may be a challenge to market expansion, but opportunities lie in new flavor combinations, functionality and healthy innovations.

“Taste, craveability and the desire to ‘treat yourself’ are driving consumer choice for more indulgent salty snacks,” said Tom Vierhile, vice-president, strategic insights, North America, Innova Market Insights.

The potato chip brands of Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., ranked among those with highest dollar sales.

“Through both marketplace observation and talking to consumers, we know that potato and tortilla chips, as well as cheesy and spicy snacks, are still top picks for consumers," said Jared Johnson, vice-president of insights, analytics and category management, Frito-Lay.

Growth in the potato chip category is fueled by an explosion of new flavors and combinations. Sweet flavors are in demand, but savory flavors are influencing growth, according to Information Resources, Inc. (I.R.I.), a Chicago-based market research firm. Local foods and global cuisines also inspire innovation.

Wise Foods, Berwick, Pa., added honey butter-flavored potato chips that deliver on sweet and savory. Wise Ridgies also played with sweet and savory, adding Southern Sweet Heat Barbecue to the lineup.

Innovation with alternative oils, salt and protein may help snack producers create an acceptable better-for-you chip for health-conscious consumers trying to find a balance or eat within dietary or self-imposed restrictions, according to Mintel’s survey.

“Consumers today are looking for the added benefits of inherent ingredients, rather than what’s been removed from the product,” said Kevin Foltz, director, consumer content, Wise Foods.

Wise Food’s Deep River Kettle offers a permissible indulgence that is non-GMO Project verified and produced with 100% sunflower oil.

“It’s a general misconception that consumers want healthier options, so they aren’t indulging,” said Hector Briones-Sanchez, vice-president of marketing, innovation, Campbell Snacks, Camden, N.J. “In reality, there is a strong desire for balance. We’ve seen growth in both permissible and indulgent categories.”

Sometimes what isn’t included is as important as what is. Having package claims like “without artificial ingredients” or “all natural” tops the list of desired attributes for snacks.

Limited-time offerings allow consumers to sample new snacks and producers to test ideas without committing to additional shelf space. Herr Foods, Nottingham, Pa., co-branded with Baltimore-based McCormick and launched Herr’s Montreal Steak seasoned potato chips. Both were part of a summer grilling campaign, and results have more than met company expectations.

“Our kettle chip line launched two new flavors: Tailgate Taquitos and Truffle & Parmesan. These indulgent, limited-time flavors provide great opportunities for incremental displays in stores,” said Bob Clark, vice-president of marketing, Herr Foods.

Potato chips with ridges and waves create a bold sensory experience and pack a bigger crunch. Hanover, Pa.-based Utz Quality Foods’ Boulder Canyon brand introduced wavy, thick kettle cut chips cooked in avocado oil in a malt vinegar and sea salt variety.

“We are also excited about the new items we have launched, such as Utz Ridge Cut Potato Chips and Smokin’ Sweet Crab in our Utz Kettle Classics line,” said Kevin Brick, senior vice-president, marketing, Utz Quality Foods.

Snack producers that walk the fine line between classic savory indulgence in a potato chip and better-for-you attributes will find success in today’s snack market.

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2019 Official State of the Industry.