In short, no, according to a number of chip makers working on NPD that stretches far beyond potatoes.
“Potato chips are going to be around forever – they’re not going to go away, nor are tortilla chips,” said Paul Cipolla, president and CEO of hummus chip company Plocky’s Fine Snacks. “…But I think what we’re trying to do nowadays is mix the base of tortilla and potato chips with better-for-you ingredients,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Cipolla said chip manufacturers could premiumize chips in the same wayStarbucks made coffee special through customization and flavor variants.
Carlos Gonzales, founder of cassava chip company Taste This Foods, agreed. “Potato chips are here to stay but what I think is going to happen is the ratio of exotic is going to increase significantly. You’re going to see a lot of blending of traditional stuff.”
What does the data say?
According to new product launch data from Mintel, potato chips remain a large proportion of snack launches in the US - representing 34.35% of all launches in 2014 - but launches have dropped from 44.87% in 2010.
In this period, tortilla chips have overtaken potato chips as the sub-category with the highest levels of NPD - 35.97% of all snack launches in the US in 2014 were tortilla chips. Similarly, veggie chip launches have grown significantly, from representing just 1.93% in 2010 to 16.77% in 2014. Bean-based snacks grew slightly from 3.09% in 2010 to 3.39% in 2014 and cassava and other root-veg snacks were up a bit from 2.71% in 2010 to 2.74 in 2014.
April DiFranco, VP of sales at blended veggie chip specialist Snikiddy, said development beyond the potato chip was a response to consumer demands.
“I definitely think more and more people are looking for something more. What will happen is there will be more potato chips that are different; you’re going to have green potato chips with kale, for example. There’s going to be little tweaks in the direction of better-for-you because it isn’t just a niche group like granola people, it’s everybody,” she said.
Robert Katz, sales head of corn chip maker That’s How We Roll, agreed health was a priority for a number of consumers.
“You see a lot of people moving away from things that make you implicitly think you’re going to put on weight. Everybody wants to snack, but you can have a healthier alternative and a better way to do it,” he said.
Bob Childs, VP of sales at seaweed chip firm Ocean’s Halo, said health properties played a huge role in the appeal of alternative chip products.
“People are always going to get their classic snacks but they’re going to pick up alternative snacks too that they feel good about eating, and if there’s going to be a nutritional benefit versus just normal snacking that’s where products like ours come into play.”
For example, he said the vitamins, minerals and low-fat qualities of seaweed were big draws for consumers.
But Trevor Hitch, national sales director of cassava chip maker Wai Lana Snacks, said the appeal of alternative chips went way beyond simple health content.
“It’s not only about health, but people like variety; so they can have cassava today, lentil chips tomorrow and potato the next - the more, the better…I think alternative chips like cassava have a real shot of giving the public what they want, which is healthier options with more variety.”
However, he said a level of consumer education was needed because cassava wasn’t as familiar in the US as other parts of the globe.
“When people know that tapioca comes from cassava they’re on-board – it’s just about knowing cassava is the root veg… There is the challenge in educating the public, but once people try it, they’re hooked,” he said.
Similarly, Ocean Halo’s VP of sales Childs said selling seaweed chips had “a consumer education component” because it was a less familiar to consumers.
“…Seaweed is not something that is widely consumed. Traditional seaweed snacks have been on the market for a while, but they play to a certain segment,” he said. “That’s why we have Texas barbecue and chili lime – we’re not going with wasabi or teriyaki; we’re positioning our brand in a way that’s going to appeal to a larger segment of the population.”
Plocky’s Fine Snacks CEO and president Cipolla agreed there was a need to innovate in a way that created mainstream appeal in these alternative chip products.
“You’ve got to be specialty but in a way that at least you can enter a mainstream model,” he said. “We’re in a battle of the mind. Basically, in the mind of consumers if they know a product like hummus and you have a hummus chip, there’s a connection.”
That’s How We Roll’s Katz said with the right marketing, any product could catch on.
A global shift? Mintel weighs in...
Marcia Mogelonsky, global food analyst at Mintel said consumers have become more sophisticated and global in their eating habits, prompting consumption pattern changes and a blurring of lines between regional snacks.
"Seaweed, for example, has become more acceptable in western snack markets, not only as a topping on other snacks, but also as a snack on its own. Similarly, tortilla chips, which originated with a distinctively Latin American and south-western United States focus, have become popular in Europe and Asia as well."
In terms of potato chip alternatives, Mogelonsky said a number of ingredients were hot competition.
"A number of other vegetables are competing with potatoes as salty snacks, including sweet potato, beet, and carrot. While these products have been in some markets for years – the US and UK, for example, have seen a range of vegetables become popular – other markets are slower to adapt.
"While still very niche, for example, the German vegetable crisp market has shown some signs of development in recent years. Vegetable crisps introductions have more than doubled from 2% of total German crisps launches in 2011 to 5% in 2013. Nevertheless, a look at the overall European market reveals that vegetable crisps penetration in Germany still ranks far behind the average vegetable crisps launch activity, which in 2013 was nearly twice as high at 9%," she said.