Chocolate Lay's in body

October 31/Purchase, N.Y./USA Today -- The chocolate-covered potato chip is going mainstream.

Lay's, the nation's largest salty snack maker, plans to roll out Lay's Wavy Potato Chips Dipped in Milk Chocolate.

For Lay's, it is all about growing beyond the constraints of the salty snack. There are, after all, growing consumer demands for flavor mash-ups. And others want to snack healthier. Even then, snack foods are a $31 billion market -- and growing, reports IBISWorld, the market research specialist.

At $3.49 for a 5oz. bag, the Lay's Wavy dipped in chocolate is just the latest in a flood of sweet and salty products that have caught the national taste bud in the past few years, from ice-cream stuffed with pretzels to pretzels coated with chocolate. The chocolate-covered chip also ties in with a flood of seasonal, limited-time-only snacks that increasingly hit the market between Halloween and New Year's. And both trends tie in to a third even larger trend: the overall increase in snacking. Some 43% of consumers now snack three to four times daily vs. 24% in 2009, according to Symphony IRI.

"Flavors are getting more sophisticated and complex," says Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at DataMonitor. "We are seeing more products that may pair traditional flavor opposites" like sweet and salty, he says.

Because the move into sweet snacks is still unusual for a salty snack giant like Lay's, the rollout will be limited on two counts. The chocolate-dipped chips will be sold only at Target stores. At the same time, the initial test is for limited-time-only distribution to stretch through the holidays. However, if the chip is a major hit, it could ultimately become permanent, says Ram Krishnan, vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay.

"When you try something drastically different, you have to walk before you can run," says Krishnan. "We wanted to test our way through this before we go big."

Plenty of smaller rivals already have chocolate-dipped chips on the market. However, except for its Rold Gold pretzels dipped in chocolate, mixing chocolate and salty snacks is new territory for Lay's. If consumers buy it, says Krishnan, "it gives us latitude to offer other flavor combinations that we've never done." Among them, he says, would be dark chocolate, white chocolate and even peppermint.

The combo of sweet and salty snacks has recently become as American as, well, snacking. Over the past year, or so, the market exploded with Kettle Maple Bacon Potato Chips, Planter's Sweet & Salty Snack Mix, ConAgra's Crunch 'n Munch and even Sweet 'n Salty Bugles.

For Lay's, the growing consumer cry for a combo of sweet and salty "opens a world of possibilities that we haven't explored before," says Krishnan.