Salt is one of five taste buds that we seek to satisfy when we crave various snack foods like potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, nuts and even chocolate.
According to recent reports, demand for salty snacks is expected to rise in nominal terms at the manufacturer level. However, what seems to have taken the category by storm are newer manufacturers and their innovative product offering with extreme flavours and better for you snacks for both bold and health-conscious consumers.
Take for example, Three Farmers, a Saskatoon-based manufacturer of plant-based protein snacks. They first introduced Roasted Chickpeas in 2014, followed by roasted green peas, called Pea Pops, in 2017. Their newest innovation, Crunchy Little Lentils, launched this fall.
A good source of protein, minerals and vitamins, lentils have been traditionally used in soups, stews and salads. Now, they have found their way to the snacking category.
“We are seeing a lot of trends in the snacking space right now which speaks well to our drive and innovation around roasted pulse snacks,” says Stacey Sauer, sales and business development coordinator at Three Farmers. “With busier lifestyles, consumers are eating snacks as meal replacements and are looking for healthy, convenient, on-the-go options. Our pulse snacks are hitting the mark with upwards of seven grams of plant-based protein per serving, and being nut-free and gluten-free, they make a great school snack for students.”
Three Farmers has the advantage of being in close proximity to their raw ingredient. Primarily grown in Saskatchewan, Canada is the leading producer and exporter of lentils in the world.
“With a significant supply of this raw commodity available right in our backyard, it made sense for our company to add this mighty pulse into our snack line up,” says Sauer. “We recently invested $1.5 million into our roasting facility in southern Saskatchewan, which meant we had the capacity to add another snack line into the rotation.”
In addition to having great access to Canadian-grown ingredients, Three Farmers also hopes to leverage its Canadian roots as a value proposition for consumers interested in shopping local and supporting Canadian brands in what could be deemed as a crowded and competitive salty snacks category.
Today, Three Farmers’ roasted pulse snacks are available in over 3,000 retailers across Canada from major grocery stores to c-stores, to smaller independent health food stores, with strongest sales in Ontario and Western Canada.
Based in Western Canada, McSweeney’s is also a proud Canadian company that uses Canadian meat ingredients for their convenient premium jerky and meat snacks – a key product differentiator in a highly competitive category, based on its popularity for high protein, low fat, and little sodium content amongst health-conscious consumers.
“All of our meat products are 100 per cent gluten-free and naturally-smoked across all of our 53 skus,” says Kylie Landry, McSweeney’s brand manager, who has seen the brand grow over the last 12 years. “This is something not all of our competitors can claim.”
McSweeney’s offers a variety of flavours, such as original, hot and sweet, Montreal steak spice, and hot teriyaki, to appeal to an evolving customer base, which includes more females and youth. Peanut-free, these easy-peel meat products, as a natural form of protein, make great snacks for school, especially their Pep & Ched combination pack, featuring a pepperoni and cheese stick combo pack, as their most popular product in the C&G channel.
A provider of specialty and natural foods Tree of Life carries a wide variety of salty snacks in their portfolio, including popcorn, potato chips, veggie chips and even dehydrated cheese. Brands under the Tree of Life banner include: Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop; Terra’s chips made with exotic vegetable, plantain or sweet potato ingredients; Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Straws and Moon Cheese, an all-natural, gluten-free crunchable cheese product, high in protein and calcium.
“Our mantra at Tree of Life is to help Canada eat well so we are always open to representing new and intriguing brands that are on trend, such as veggie-based, bean-based, plant-based and gut-based products that fall on either the premium-upscale and/or health and wellness spectrum,” says Mike Cunningham, marketing insights team lead at Tree of Life. While their products are on trend, Cunningham adds that they’d like to see more of their products distributed within the C&G channel. “As consumers start to switch to a healthier mindset, we are finding a little bit more of an opportunity to get some of these niche health and wellness brands listed.”
While traditional salty snacks like pretzels, corn and potato chips continue to dominate the category and remain as staple snacks in the C&G channel, many c-store retailers are noticing a change in the market involving portion sizes, sweet and salty combinations and bold seasonings.
“Innovation is driving the sales of salty snacks,” says Gerry Bes, who manages 29 Little Short Shop convenience stores across Southern Ontario. “It is the category with the most new product launches that is driving interest and excitement across diverse brands, flavours, textures, price offerings and sheer variety.”
As individual tastes continue to expand beyond traditional flavours, many manufacturers are taking note of international influences with their snack offerings. This includes Aubrey’s Gourmet Chips & Sauces, who specializes in bold flavours across their hot snacks, sauces and condiments.
“Today’s flavours are influenced by global markets, including southeast Asia, north Africa, Korea and the Middle East,” says Aubrey Zelman of Aubrey’s Gourmet Chips & Sauces. “We have carved a niche for our extreme heat kettle cooked potato chips and work with the support of our retailers to build a loyal consumer.”
Their Rebel Gourmet kettle chips are available in three flavours: Jalapeño white cheddar, Chipotle hot wings, and Habernero bar-b-q and are sold at Shell, Mac’s and a number of independent c-stores predominately in western Canada, the prairies and Ontario. While Habernero bar-b-q is their top seller, their niche product offering caters to people who like heat and spice – Zelman believes that equates to approximately 10 per cent of the market.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface of the snacking category,” says Zelman, who believes his product offering is a great profit opportunity for retailers. “Priced at a 40 per cent profit margin, our chips, paired with a beverage to doust the heat, create a perfect profitable, multi-buy opportunity.”
Leading distribution and logistics company Wallace & Carey has also noticed a change in the salty snack category.
“We are seeing an influx of ancient grain snacks, such as flax and quinoa and more meat snacks,” says Mark Rusk, national sales and engagement manager at Wallace & Carey. “The wonderful mosaic of diverse cultures that make up Canada is what will make this category grow and be successful in the future. I can hardly wait to see what the future brings!”
From bold flavours to healthy options, the salty snack category continues to evolve as manufacturers will look to distribution companies and C&G retailers to list and sell their innovative products to consumers who crave change in a typical traditional category. As snacking continues to replace heavy meals, c-stores will be a prime destination for innovative, bold and healthy, salty snacks.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org