Driven by uncertainty and panic-shopping early in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all snack categories experienced a significant boost in sales for March, including crackers. The focus moved to the center store where consumers stocked up on familiar snacks that are shelf-stable and offer variety.

Dollar sales for crackers were 14.1% higher for the period from January 5 to April 5, 2020, as compared with the entire year of 2019, according to a recent IRI TSV model. The category reported 6.8% growth over previous quarter ending June 14, 2020, according to IRI’s quarterly report on retail sales for US snacks.

“There is a comfort factor to snacking post pandemic. For example, there was a COVID-19-induced shortage of Goldfish, which are familiar and can be enjoyed by the whole family,” said Tom Vierhile, vice president, strategic insights, North America, Innova Market Insights.

Camden, NJ-based Campbell Snacks introduced more than a dozen innovations this year, including most recently Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors Limited Edition Color on Me! multipack and Goldfish Princess and Marvel Avengers.

“During COVID-19, we’ve seen a shift back to a preference for basic ingredients and flavors, creating stronger demand for classics like plain potato chips and Cheddar Goldfish,” said Valerie Oswalt, executive vice president and president, Campbell Snacks.

[Related reading: The state of the snack industry in 2020]

Traditional crackers like Kellogg’s Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and Nabisco’s Ritz Crackers earned the most dollar sales with Pepperidge Farm Flavor Blasted Goldfish up 19.6%, according to IRI sales data.

“There is an uptick in nostalgia,” said Kara Nielsen, director of WGSN Food & Drink, WGSN — an Ascential company. “Consumers across demographics continue to seek comforting familiar snacks. Even boomers and Gen Xers who usually choose permissible snacks are reaching for old favorites. Renewed interest in these legacy brands creates a real opportunity for producers to leverage, but they have to act now.”

In-store foot traffic in April slowed as consumers worked through their home inventory. However, they still need a wide range of foods while working and caring for children at home. Crackers are a big part of family snacking and can satisfy most eating occasions.Goldfish

“Some of our comfort products also come with health benefits. Our portfolio covers all snacking moments and occasions, from indulging with Milano to family snacking with Goldfish,” Ms. Oswalt said.

In March, Campbell Snacks introduced Veggie Goldfish in two flavors, Cheesy Tomato and Sweet Carrot. One serving of Veggie Goldfish crackers are equivalent to 1/3 serving of vegetables, which responds to the appeal for adding real vegetables to snacks. Campbell’s Snack Factory Garden Vegetable Pretzel Crisps contains vegetables like broccoli. Snack Factory added new cheddar-flavored Pretzel Crisps to the lineup.

Consumers also perceive fiber as a functional attribute. TH Foods’ Crunchmaster brand responded with the launch of a line of fiber-rich Grain-Free Crackers.

“In the next few years, grain-free has the potential to become the new gluten-free. However, as a trend, it is still emerging with the general market but has become more prevalent within specific channels and retailers,” said Braden Bennie, senior marketing manager, TH Foods, Inc., Loves Park, Ill.

Functional snacks that boost energy or satiate hunger mid-morning or afternoon have been popular, but now consumers must consider differing preferences among family members. Crackers can play into these new snacking opportunities because they are versatile and deliver appealing health attributes.

[Related reading: How to maximize fiber claims in baked foods]

Consumers must learn to navigate life at home while maintaining some degree of separation between work, play and eating. Snacks can help with these transitional moments. For the foreseeable future, consumers are not snacking on-the-go but in the comfort of their own home. This emerging segment is an opportunity for producers.

The combination of crackers with refrigerated spreads and whole-food toppings provides a better-for-you snacking option typically unavailable for an on-the-go snacker. Certain snacks can also be used as meal solutions, such as crushing Ritz crackers to bread chicken.

“Snacks that are multifunctional and can serve as an additional component of a meal are experiencing heightened success,” said Simon Gunzburg, research analyst, Euromonitor International.

Consumer preferences shifted to snacks that deliver comfort, nostalgia and flavor in larger, rather than on-the-go pack sizes, as stay-at-home orders were imposed. Crunchmaster launched a 10-oz Party Pack of its bestselling Multi-Seed Original Crackers to appeal to those who were also looking to larger pack sizes for better value.

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's 2020 Official State of the Industry