Consumer research done by IRI shows that shoppers are seeking a balance between indulgent and better-for-you snacks. And the research shows that pretzels are a go-to better-for-you snack that offers different textures and forms to keep consumers buying within the category and from different channels.

Because pretzel snacks often feature savory and higher-protein doughs, they align with several trending diets. Low-sugar diets have been outperforming others since last year. In 2019, low-sugar claims in food and beverage dollar sales saw a 27.3% uptick, according to IRI figures. That growth jumped to 60% during the first months of COVID-19, and IRI projects it will maintain 49.7% growth through the rest of 2020. High-protein diets have seen tremendous growth during the pandemic, with 41% sales growth during the first month and 33.5% since May.

In 2019, Fitjoy, Austin, Texas, released its first grain-free pretzel, which is plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free, soy-free and non-GMO. The crunchy twists are made from cassava and chickpea flour and tossed in pink Himalayan sea salt. Each serving (approximately 30 pretzels) contains 130 calories, 3 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of added sugar and 2 grams of protein.

“We know more and more people are trying to limit the amount of grain they consume, whether for digestive reasons or health issues or because they’re on a diet,” said Scott Sturgill, head of innovation and product development at FitJoy. “We wanted our consumers to have fun and tasty options that would align with their diet choices.”

Consumers are also purchasing pretzels more often from home. This cross-channel success may be a glimpse into the future of snack sales.

[Related reading: Expect people to keep using e-commerce after pandemic fades]

“We have seen an accelerated adoption of online food and beverage sales, and pretzels have benefited,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, IRI. “And now we know that the rest of 2020 is poised to have more at-home occasions than ever before, so conversion to e-commerce will continue to rise into 2021 and beyond.”

According to IRI, pretzel dollar sales grew online 54% in 2019. In April, sales shot up 158%. And from May 3 to July 12, pretzels had a 101% increase in dollar sales.

“Pretzel bakers will need to look at their omnichannel strategies and ensure they have a differentiated portfolio across the channels at a price consumers are willing to pay,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

She added that consumers are comparing prices across channels and retailers now more than ever. Pretzel producers need to work with retail customers to create a brand presence on platforms and to ensure online searches align with their product attributes. For example, searches for low fat, no sugar added, gluten free and more should direct consumers to the pretzel product. These attributes, combined with the right flavors, create the differentiation needed to succeed in the market.

“The best way to ensure category growth is to find complementary assortments to keep consumers coming back for more,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

Riding the storm out

The ups and downs of the pandemic have impacted every corner of the world, including changes in how everyone eats and where they buy their food. Pretzel bakers can implement several tactics to drive growth for the category and their own sales.

“Consumers have widened their online searches for holistic health and wellbeing foods and beverages with functional benefits like obesity support and other attributes like gluten-free are still relevant,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “Highlighting on the package and in communications and/or within innovation would be beneficial.”

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

Additionally, she said bakers can share at-home consumption ideas with consumers that will engage and excite them with options for versatile shelf stable and frozen pretzels. Bakers can leverage personalized messages to get relevant ideas to consumers.

“Adapt price and size architecture to ensure a good mix, and price and value in conjunction with private label across channels to maximize foot and click traffic as well as sales,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt argued. “This should include finding the right balance of large sizes, variety packs and single-serve packages.”

By increasing their focus on e-commerce, reviewing promotional strategies with retailers and launching innovative products to differentiate their products, pretzel bakers can twist and turn their businesses into winning shape.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on pretzels, click here.