Snack identity crisis? ‘We’ve had a hard time getting our story told’, says SFA

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

SFA head: We're more than just potato chips... there's a lot of better-for-you innovation going on
SFA head: We're more than just potato chips... there's a lot of better-for-you innovation going on

Related tags Snack foods Potato chips Snack food

The Snack Food Association (SFA) is determined to correct misperceptions held among consumers, government and regulators about the nature of the snack category and its role in health, its CEO says.

The US snacks sector is growing fast within the packaged foods market, with traditional savory snacks up around 3% since 2008, surpassing $35.2bn in sales, according to Euromonitor International.

But Tom Dempsey, CEO of the SFA, said that for industry to reach its true potential, it had to overcome some identity issues.

“We have a hard time getting our story told because as soon as we say the ‘snack food association’ there’s sometimes a misperception that all we are is chips, potato chips, pretzels and tortillas, when in fact almost any one of our multi-category members are doing a healthier version or have a new innovation,”​ he told at the association’s annual conference and tradeshow Snaxpo in Orlando, Florida.

Numerous snack brands had better-for-you variants, he said, including those made with multi-grain, reduced sodium or ‘no salt’ products and plenty had added protein.

“We’ve got to find a way to get that message to the public; get that message to the legislators; and get that message to the regulators – that we are developing products for consumers who want them.

“…We’re trying to hit on all those touch points that will allow the snack category to be perceived not just as a problem for nutrition, but as a solution to nutritional guidance.”

Potato chips versus nutrition bars


Dempsey said he had recently compared a 1oz bag of potato chips to a nutrition bar with a colleague, looking at the nutrition facts panel, and the nutrition bar was only better in protein.

However, he said most consumers would automatically opt for the nutrition bar over the chips. 

“What we’re going to try and do is make sure science is what is used to determine policy and we can use best practices in what our products are; confronting what people thing they aren’t.”

He said the SFA would work hard to engage with legislators on such issues, as well as policy makers, but also better connect with consumers.

“Certainly we’ve got to convince government not to categorize all of our foods and use the best science to determine what is healthy and not healthy; not use policy to set food standards versus science. But then you’ve got to be able to tell the consumers, and one of the ways that we are getting beat is social media.

“It’s easy for someone to come out and make a blanket statement that isn’t true, or is half true, and we’ve got to find a way to respond to that and let them know that these options are out there,”​ he said.

Connecting better with consumers, he said, was about improved PR campaigns and more vibrant product launches – “those are the things we’ll address in the future”.

Big and small players

Dempsey said this stronger consumer approach could be taken by snack makers of all sizes.


“There’s a wide disparity between our big members and our small members and all of them can’t do multi-million dollar ad campaigns, but they can do localized, gorilla marketing that allows them, through different venues and avenues, to engage with the consumer.”

Companies can be more proactive on their websites, for example, and on social media platforms like Twitter to create dialogue with consumers, he said.

“There’s a wide range of things that can be done and there’s place for all of our members to do that. One of our jobs will be to make it easy for them to do it, with as much support as we can give.”

“… With America snacking five to six times a day, we have a bright future for snack foods. It may not be your grandfather’s snack foods, but it will be snack foods nonetheless,”​ he said.

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