Retail evolution: how US salty snacks market can tap the opportunities

By Vince Bamford

- Last updated on GMT

Shoppers purchase snacks from a wide range of retailers. Photo: iStock - hxdyl
Shoppers purchase snacks from a wide range of retailers. Photo: iStock - hxdyl

Related tags Salty snacks Retailing Mintel

Convenience stores and drug stores have a big opportunity to further grow their share of the salty snacks market as US shopping habits change, according to analysts.

Growth in the most popular retail channel for salty snacks – supermarkets – is being outpaced by other retail channels, shows a new study, with supermarkets facing competition from lower-priced goods found at mass merchandisers and dollar stores, as well as the accessibility of convenience and drug stores

Mintel’s 2016 US Salty Snacks Report reveals that, between 2010 and 2015, supermarket sales of salty snacks increased 18.2% to $3.2bn – behind the 29% increase in the total category to $10.2bn. In contrast, sales through convenience stores rose 32% to $2.8bn, by 35.5% through drug stores to $340m, and 35.1% through other types of retailer to $3.8bn.

The trend is representative of a general shift in consumer behavior, according to Mintel senior food analyst Amanda Topper.

Shopping at a range of retailers

Consumers are no longer shopping at one retailer, they are shopping across locations based on their product and pricing needs​,” she told BakeryandSnacks.

Supermarkets remain shoppers' first choice, shows a Mintel poll of almost 2,000 consumers conducted in January. In it, 77% of respondents said they had bought salty snacks in a supermarket in the past six months. This was followed by mass merchandisers (such as Target or Walmart) at 63%, a warehouse club (such as Costco) at 35%, convenience store at 27% and a drug store at 26%.

smartphone shopping

Supermarkets have remained the most-shopped retailer due to their convenient locations and wide product variety, says Mintel, while mass merchandisers also offer affordability to cost-conscious consumers.

Innately convenient formats

And although a long way behind in the poll, convenience stores and drug stores have a big opportunity to reach consumers due to their innately convenient formats, adds Topper.

As grab-and-go foods, salty snacks can perform well in these channels with merchandising catering to the on-the-go snacker​,” she says, adding that nearly a third of salty snack consumers buy snacks on impulse.

Drug stores and convenience stores can tap this behavior by offering single-serve formats, according to Mintel, and by stocking resealable formats that cater to away-from-home snacking.

Within the meat snack segment specifically, resealable pouches prove to be popular and successful, allowing consumers to fuel up on-the-go​,” says Tapper.

Sharing formats still relevant

She adds that, with two-thirds of salty snacks being consumed at home, sharing formats are still relevant.

Some of the top performers within the category, especially within the popcorn segment, offer small and large format products, catering to at home and on-the-go snacking occasions​,” she says.

US SALES OF SALTY SNACKS (At current prices 2010-15)

Select bar to view $m sales figures. Source: Mintel

While Mintel found resealable packaging was the second-most important factor influencing choice of snack, first place goes to offering a new flavor.

And, given the impact taste and indulgence have on the category, Topper suggests showcasing new flavors on endcaps or special in-store displays could influence shoppers. She adds that displays promoting spicy flavors – the third most popular factor influencing purchase – and limited-edition or seasonal flavors can also tap impulse purchases.

Online retailing

While online purchase of salty snacks is still relatively low (12% of shoppers polled said they had done so in the past six months), it also taps the demand for convenient retail options.

There is increasing interest in online shopping​,” says Topper, adding it appeals particularly to tech-savvy Millennial consumers who are more frequent snackers in general. Businesses including Snyder’s-Lance and, as of last month, Jack Link’s​, are tapping demand by establishing an presence with their own online stores.

This eliminates the need for a middleman, and offers consumers products they may not typically have access to via traditional distribution channels​,” says Topper.

The growing consumer interest in online shopping is likely to impact future growth in online retailing, in salty snacks, and more broadly across food and drink​.”

Snacking as stress relief

iStock_stress eating

Mintel consumer research revealed that 62% of US consumers say they eat salty snacks as a stress reliever – up from just 16% a year ago.

The poll of almost 2,000 consumers also showed that almost a third of consumers eat salty snacks when they are bored – with half saying snacking was a good way to relieve boredom.

Consumption of salty snacks is largely driven by emotion​,” says Mintel senior food analyst Amanda Topper. “Consumers are looking for ways to manage their wellbeing, and the impact of food on emotional and mental health is becoming more important. Our research reveals this is especially true among parents, with the majority agreeing that salty snacks relieve stress​.”

The study also highlighted the importance of taste, with 62% of respondents saying taste is more important than how healthy a salty snack is. But taste and health are not polarizing US consumers, found Mintel, with 82% of consumers agreeing salty snacks can be both healthy and tasty.

Striking a balance between good tasting and good for you is key for salty snack brands​,” says Topper. “While consumers are concerned about ingredients and express interest in seeing healthier options on shelves, they still want to indulge, and flavor is a highly motivating factor​.

Brands that focus on products with bold, new flavors that incorporate simple ingredients will offer the best of both worlds to consumers​.”

Meat snacks are tapping this trend, with sales up 55% between 2010 and 2015 – faster growth than any other salty snacks segment. More than half of US shoppers polled said they had bought a meat snack in the past six months (see table below).

Recent innovations in flavor and format have helped to spur sales of meat snacks, which are largely perceived as a natural snack food with clean ingredients​,” says Topper, adding that the category will continue to grow as new protein option such as salmon and turkey increase.

And she adds that popcorn is another salty segment that continues to be driven by better-for-you perceptions and strong product innovation.

Partially-popped popcorn, which has a crunchier texture than traditional popcorn, is gaining traction as a new format​,” says Topper


Purchases in the past six month (poll conducted in January 2016). Source: Mintel

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