DALLAS — Consumers love to snack, often three to five times daily. As their snacking habits evolve, so too must manufacturers to remain relevant in an ever-expanding category. 

At SNX 2024, held April 14-16 in Dallas, a panel of snack industry leaders discussed the current state of the industry and the latest trends that are driving innovation and consumer demand. 

Younger snackers like Generation Z are seeking increasingly innovative, daring flavors, as well as multi-sensorial snacking experiences, observed Justin French, senior director of R&D North America, PepsiCo Foods, New York.  

“They’re demanding that these flavors are super intense, and that they can have this party in their mouth when they need it,” he said. “It’s not just one kind of ‘hot’ or one kind of ‘cheese,’ they want them slammed together in a way.”

Megan Reamer, co-founder of sweet potato chip manufacturer Jackson’s, Muskego, Wis., seconded this, noting the company’s recently launched wavy-cut Cheddar and Sour Cream variety plays into these flavor and sensorial trends. 

“We’re playing with what a traditional, easily recognizable flavor looks like, and how we can make a twist on it,” she said. 

Flavor innovation is also driven by the United States’ growing multicultural population, French observed. He noted PepsiCo is focusing more attention to flavors that appeal to the increasing number of Hispanic and South Asian consumers, for example. 

“We’re starting to step back and say, ‘Are these first and second-generation families here in North America able to go into a store and find something that reminds them of home?’ ” he said. “We’re starting to have consumers come in and help us identify those ingredients that might trigger some emotion to them and have it built upon in the portfolio.” 

Flavor and indulgence are the primary drivers of consumer snacking, but better-for-you (BFY) attributes still play an important role. Erik Sword, brand director of salty foods for Conagra Brands, Chicago, observed it’s important for snack manufacturers to play into all these areas.

“It’s almost like managing your retirement portfolio — that diversification matters,” he said. “And as consumers have been for the last couple years shifting wildly in how they operate, how they go to the store, what they look for when they're shopping, having our diverse portfolio has been a real saving grace.” 

French observed that increasingly label-conscious consumers have driven growth for BFY snacks with cleaner ingredients. 

“Consumers are smarter,” he said. “They’re understanding the ingredients and understanding the nutrition facts panel in a completely different way than we ever thought.”

He added that consumer expectation of what a BFY snack can be has also shifted. 

“It’s no longer just snack bars and nuts and seeds, they’re expecting the prime of the category to have all of these benefits in this way,” he said. “Are we able to uplift an experience in the heart of the portfolio to make sure it delivers on the flavor and the experience, but in a way that there is a little bit less stress around what's in it?”

The line between snacks and meals has become increasingly blurred, observed Dina Regan, associate vice president, snacks R&D, Campbell Snacks, Camden, NJ, with more consumers replacing traditional meals with multiple or larger snacks. As this trend continues, the need for snack makers to provide a convenient yet elevated eating experience will be critical in order to stand out. 

“Leaning into the quality of the experience and how consistently we delivery quality to our consumers is super important,” she said.