The snack industry is always exciting to cover. It’s competitive, diverse, and there’s always something new, especially now. The latest IRI data shows a snack industry that is experiencing incredible dollar sales but declining unit sales, a sign that inflation is taking its toll for some categories. 

Overall IRI data for total salty snack sales for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 8 show the wider industry holding its own with consumers in spite of inflation: Dollar sales were up 15.6% and unit sales were only down 0.9%, a negligible fall for a $28.3 billion industry. Certain categories like potato chips, tortilla chips and cheese snacks saw similarly negligible unit sale declines, while corn snacks actually saw 3.6% growth for unit sales. Other categories, such as dried meat snacks, pork rinds, other snacks and bars struggled to pass along price increases to consumers. However, talk to any snack manufacturer, and these numbers haven’t dampened their excitement. In fact, it certainly doesn’t feel like unit sales are declining, not with their lines running at full capacity and consumers rediscovering their appetite for new flavors and formats.

In an interview with Baking & Snack Executive Editor Dan Malovany, Jared Johnson, vice president of marketing, innovation, Frito-Lay North America, Plano, Texas, pointed out how consumer behavior around snacking has changed as the country moves past the pandemic. Snacking has become ubiquitous. 

“Some behaviors are new, like how our homes serve more as a hub to how we work, live and play,” he said. “Our 2023 Snack Index backs up the role the home plays in consumers’ snacking habits: We found most Americans enjoy snacks at home with family (62%) or when taking time for themselves (62%). Other behaviors, like an increasingly on-the-go lifestyle or the blurring of lines between snacks and meals, were put on hold during the pandemic and are now rebounding.” 

Benestar Brands, Chicago, doesn’t seem to be feeling the squeeze, despite the performance of the pork rinds category as a whole. Yes, logistics and supply chain continue to be challenges every company faces, but it’s not slowing down Benestar’s ability to meet customer orders or invest in new production lines or facilities. The challenges, in fact, have accelerated Benestar’s use of digital tools and automation to root out inefficiencies and build in redundancies. By exerting more control over what it can, Benestar is quickly able to pivot and adapt to challenges it can’t control.  This ensures Benestar doesn’t drop the ball on customer service and can enjoy the high demand it’s experiencing for its pork rinds and tortilla chips. The new pork rind fryer at its City of Industry, Calif., facility improved not only efficiency and throughput but also quality. And during my visit, the company was in the process of starting up its newest facility in Ohio — an investment necessitated by the company’s growth. 

While inflation may be a downer on unit sales in the data, consumers will always want a snack. Inflation is just a blip on the radar of the long game: Snacking will endure.