Further confirmation that the UK consumer is a snack fiend is highlighted in a new report that suggests they eat more snacks than their counterparts in any other European country, which in turn is helping to fuel a period of robust growth.
In addition, according to a new report from market analysts Datamonitor, the continent's historical and cultural differences are shaping a highly regionalised market. They predict that innovative and targeted products will be called for if the market's undoubted potential is to be met.
The UK's market for savoury snacks, at €1.6bn by far the biggest in Europe, outpaces the combined value of the German, French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish markets, which together form the continent's top six.
The findings in the report, which pegs the value of the total European market at a fraction less than $4 billion (€3.8bn) in 2001, reveals a rise of over a billion dollars in five years.
But such impressive growth masks a complex picture, continues the report. Despite identifying some broad trends, regional tastes and traditions mean that European markets have proved stubbornly individual. Although preferences and lifestyles are converging across Europe to some extent, the 'Europeanisation' of snacking trends and preferences is incomplete, writes Datamonitor.
Great differences still characterise the Western European snack markets: some product categories are underexploited and others simply do not have the growth potential. Pretzels, for example, are Austria's most popular savoury snack. Yet outside German-speaking countries, their market share plummets.
Add to the mixture the fact that many markets are already well served by established regional and international manufacturers such as Kraft, KP and Intersnack, and the result is a complicated and highly competitive pan-European market, comments Datamonitor.
Yet the growing market has created notable new opportunities. Ethnic snacks have shown strong growth in markets including the UK, France and Portugal and sales are expected to balloon at twice the rate of the overall market until at least 2006. At the same time, increasingly time-starved consumers are expected to eat on-the-move more often, blurring the line between mealtimes and snacking.
Although highly regionalised, broad trends are at work in the European savoury snacks market that will continue to drive growth and create opportunities. Despite intense competition, strategies that recognise the market's complexity and are quick to exploit emerging trends are likely to meet with success, concludes Datamonitor.