Everything is a snack: Time to re-invent the potato chip

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Pass the noodles! I fancy a snack. Does the snackification of everything mean the death of the potato chip?
Pass the noodles! I fancy a snack. Does the snackification of everything mean the death of the potato chip?

Related tags Potato chip Snack food Meal Snack food association

Noodle pots, bagels, pizza slices, yogurts, soups – you name it – have muscled into the snack space. So what hope do old-fashioned potato chip, popcorn and nut makers really have?

The ‘snackification of everything’​ – a phrase coined by healthy foods consultant Julian Mellentin – never rang so true. Three square meals per day have been ditched as busy consumers look to gorge down food items that fit in one hand, can be (preferably) ripped open with teeth and gobbled down with as little effort as possible. Even Chobani is trying to tap into the US Super Bowl snackfest​. Oh, how times have changed…

If we take a look at the biggest snack market in the world, half of all American eating occasions are now snacks. According to the Hartman Group, this almost belies the word ‘snack’, because while Americans still idealize eating three balanced meals a day; they rarely eat that way, instead becoming comfortable with, “eating on the fly, based on whims and cravings”.

And so, as consumers imbibe mini-meals on the train or en route to the bank, what hope do humble potato chip makers have? How can snack makers win back punters?

Eat me! Eat me!

Snacks, in their traditional sense are (or should we say were?) meal accompaniments, set to simply curb hunger until the next, sit-down feed. Snack makers now however, have no choice but to chase after that hungry, time-pressed, moving, meal-minded consumer.

Snack makers need to renew how they position themselves
Snack makers need to renew how they position themselves

Shouting ‘pick me, I’ll keep you fuller for longer’, ‘grab this to curb sweet cravings and share me with friends’ or ‘pick me because I’m vintage and I’ll evoke a feeling of nostalgia’ could grab attention.

Satiety claims, playing up indulgence, tapping into eating occasions or childhood memories – these are tools that snack makers should be using more.

Some may feel secure resting on their laurels in the knowledge that the potato chip will never die – sales continue to be the strongest within savory snacks pulling in $28.8bn globally in 2013, just ahead of extruded snacks at $28.6bn. Maybe the potato chip will never die, and maybe it shouldn’t – choice after all, as the Snack Food Association’s CEO said, is crucial​.

Sit still and it might not die, but the chip will not prosper in this brave new snackified world. The time for innovation is now: In both NPD and attention-grabbing marketing campaigns.

While traditional snacks have ducked recessionary times​, I think it’s going to be harder to duck competition coming in from every angle.

Health versus indulgence

The obvious opportunity here is health, health with a dash of health. While healthy snacking is, of course, important in a world where obesity problems are getting worse, not better, and there is certainly a place for snack makers to develop healthy variants, it's not what is going to win the battle of market share as new competition comes in. Some companies (and big companies at that) have been clever in throwing caution to the wind and going for a polar opposite strategy – calorific indulgence. After all, the majority of snacking is done on impulse and healthy snack options just aren't as real for busy consumers as some companies may like to think.

This year Frito-Lay and Kellogg both launched chocolate-covered crisps, bridging the gap between confectionery and savory snacks. A great example of indulgence marketing but does it run the risk of broadening competition even further. Why add confectionery to the list of competitors?

Re-invigorate good old-fashioned snacks
Re-invigorate good old-fashioned snacks

Innovation needs to be less about drawing inspiration from other sectors, or even merging concepts, and more about standing strong on the sector’s own values of what a traditional snack is about. It’s about simplicity of form, it’s a flavor experience, a crunch experience. It’s an explosion of taste for a few minutes, or even seconds, and why not just stick to that?

There are mega opportunities to innovate further with flavor.  Spicy has been 2013’s top global snack flavor trend​ and this isn’t set to change. Tongue travel where consumers taste their way round the world through flavors is how snack makers can pull in the punters and avoid outside competition. Coupled with sticking to the traditional formats and concepts that consumers know, and trust, as good old-fashioned snacks with a dash of clever marketing and your traditional potato chip stands a fighting chance.

Kacey Culliney is a reporter for BakeryandSnacks.com and likes her mini-meal or snack (salt & vinegar flavored) as much as the next person. She has been writing about the food and beverage industry for several years.

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