Top Snack Food Trends in 2015
Snack, candy manufacturers use fun new flavors, forms to tempt tastebuds.
Change and challenge describe the state of affairs in the 2014 confectionery market. It was a year when candy makers placed big bets on new products to drive growth.
Last year certainly started out with a bang. Nestlé went after the competition with its own new entry: Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups. Moreover, Nestlé supported the launch with its first-ever Super Bowl ad. The entry represents the first big brand (in decades) to directly target Hershey’s Reese’s.
For its part, Hershey also was in an aggressive mood and launched its first new US candy brand in 30 years: Lancaster Soft Cremes. According to Hershey, caramel is growing faster than any other confectionery flavor. Conceived as a soft-type caramel that “you can sink your teeth into,” it targets consumers in their 20s and 30s and taps growth in caramel-flavored candies.
Want another example of 2014 shaping up as a big year? Mars Chocolate literally went big with M&M’s Mega Chocolate Candies—a new version of M&M’s with three times the chocolate of regular M&M’s. It may have been the biggest change for M&M’s since the brand’s 1941 debut.
This willingness to experiment with the crown jewels carried over to brands like PEZ, a brand celebrating its 88th birthday in 2014. The brand went beyond the ubiquitous PEZ dispenser with PEZ Hedz Soft Candy Chews, a soft candy inspired by the fun character designs topping PEZ candy dispensers. Made in Germany by Katjes, the dispenser-less candy showcases new technology that produces snappy character impressions, such as a new Hello Kitty variety.
In terms of texture and shape innovation, 2014 was likely the calm before the storm as 3D printing nears commercial reality. Hershey plans to debut the technology in 2015 with its 3-D Chocolate Candy Printing exhibit at Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa. The exhibit will show live 3D printing and let consumers be “scanned” to see what they would look like as piece of 3D chocolate. Hershey has been working with 3D systems on this 3D printing technology for some time, and chocolate may be the first packaged food to use 3D printing on a commercial scale.
Novel flavors drove the bulk of confectionery innovation in 2014, especially seasonal candies, which were huge. Leading the way were fall-themed flavors, as confectionery jumped on the coffee market’s pumpkin spice-flavor bandwagon.
Consumers faced a barrage of pumpkin spice-flavored candies and gums in 2014, including Trident Layers Pumpkin Spice Sugar Free Gum from Mondelez Global, Wrigley’s Extra Pumpkin Spice Sugar Free Gum from Wrigley, and Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn from Brach’s.
Halloween’s impact on confectionery is clear, based on innovations like Hershey’s Snack Size Candy Bars—a white-chocolate bar studded with candy corn-flavored candy bits. Mars Chocolate added a Candy Apple flavored M&M’s Chocolate Candy variety, while Brach’s added Caramel Apple Candy Corn.
Candy makers also were more willing to borrow flavors from elsewhere. That meant creations like Trident Layers Sugar Free Gum in a Jelly Bean flavor, M&M’s Chocolate Candies in a Birthday Cake flavor and Starburst Fruit Chews in a Fruit Slushy flavor. The trend actually went in both directions, with Starburst showing up at Taco Bell restaurants in a new Strawberry Starburst Slushy.
Alcoholic beverages also powered flavor innovation in 2014, with candy makers making a stronger play for adults. Jelly Belly reportedly spent three years developing Jelly Belly Draft Beer Jelly Beans to avoid a bitter aftertaste—and get the yeast and hop flavor balance just right. Beer-flavored, the jelly beans did not contain any actual alcohol. That was not the case for Booze Drops Candy, which featured such flavors as Bourbon Whiskey and Tequila Lemon. This hard candy has up to 3% alcohol by volume, depending on the variety.
Given that candy is ultimately an indulgence, innovation in better-for-you products was muted. One exception was Ohso Good for You Chocolate Probiotic Chocolate Bar. This shelf-stable Belgian chocolate bar uses patented technology to encapsulate live bacteria in a “high-quality chocolate matrix”—a delivery system said to make the bar three times more effective in delivering probiotics than dairy products. Ohso will be distributed in the U.S. by Solgar Vitamin and Herb, according to a deal announced in December 2014.
Another entry to watch is the Evopak Energy Chew—a “naturally flavored” energy chew with vitamins, nutrients and minerals—plus caffeine to help “power through your day.” Offered in Berry and Lemon flavors, the chews come packaged like gum and are conceived as a portable alternative to energy drinks.
Although not functional in an ingredient sense, unwrapped, bite-size candies expanded their footprint in 2014, courting calorie-conscious consumers. Mars added 3 Musketeers Mint Bites in December. Unwrapped, bite-size candies are hot, with sales up 16% from 2010 to 2013. Mars cites Nielsen data and notes that bite sizes now represent nearly 20% of the chocolate candy category.
One important merchandising innovation hit the U.S. confectionery market in 2014: the subscription candy box. Candy Club, a monthly subscription candy box service, debuted with a diverse selection of hand-picked candies, plus at least one “local” candy per box. Similar products, such as Nibblr (from General Mills) and Graze (from Graze.com), also hit the snack market in 2014.
Innovation in savory snacks in 2014 was concentrated in pretzel chips, popped chips and snacks flavored with the “hot” flavor of the year: sriracha.
Sriracha had a Bigfoot-like footprint on snacks last year, heating up potato chips, snack mixes, popcorn and more. The spicy flavor was favored by Chex Mix Xtreme Snack Mix Sweet & Spicy Sriracha from General Mills, Kettle Foods’ Kettle Brand Sriracha Potato Chips and Popcorn, Indiana’s Sriracha Popcorn.
Pretzel chips and popped chips had one thing in common—both were created by upstarts. Pretzel chips were popularized by Snack Factory’s Pretzel Crisps in 2004, while popped chips were sired by Popchips in 2007. Both brands were in the cross-hairs of numerous new products in 2014.
H.K. Anderson Pretzel Thins from ConAgra Foods, Rold Gold Three Cheese Pretzel Thins from Frito-Lay and Skinnygirl Snacks Baked Pretzel Thins from Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods were major new pretzel chips in 2014. Pretzel chips are prized for their thin profile, crunchy texture, impactful flavor and favorable nutritional profile relative to potato chips.
Popped chips produced a mind-bending array of launches in 2014. Two of the more unusual ones are Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads Naan Crisps from FGF Brands and Food Should Taste Good Pita Puffs from General Mills’ Food Should Taste Good unit. Naan Crisps are “flame-baked,” instead of fried, and shaped like naan bread for a different look. Pita Puffs marry the pita chip with a puffed-chip format, in flavors such as Cinnamon Sugar.
Other popped chips include Lay’s Air Pops Air Popped Crisps from Frito-Lay, with “55% less fat than regular potato chips,” and Nabisco Wheat Thins Popped Chips in flavors like Spicy Cheddar. Because the Nabisco product is wheat-based, it delivers a significant quantity of whole grains—11g per serving.
All this activity in puffed and pretzel chips might leave the impression that potato chips were left out in the cold, but that isn’t the case. Potato chips felt the love from Frito-Lay and its new lattice-cut chip concept. Lay’s Kettle Cooked Lattice Cut Potato Chips feature an open-cut lattice shape for a new mouthfeel and greater surface area to hold seasonings and flavors.
Frito-Lay also tweaked the ridged potato chip concept with Ruffles Deep Ridged Potato Chips in flavors like Sweet & Smokin’ Barbecue and Classic Hot Wings—the latter inspired by a partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings. The deeper ridges reportedly “stand up to the thickest dips.”
Tortilla chips also were tweaked, with Frito-Lay’s Tostitos Rolls tortilla chips launched in December 2014, just prior to the Super Bowl. The rolled chip format is the hottest thing in tortilla chips in years, popularized by Hispanic consumers and now moving into the mass market.
Potato chip flavor also has been more daring than usual. Potato chips logged the first Stuffing, Cranberry, Turkey & Gravy and Pumpkin Pie-flavored chips in 2014 with Boulder Flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. Launched around Thanksgiving, the line cashed in on the festive season and was exclusive to Target stores.
The “open innovation” model was tapped by Frito-Lay again in 2014, with its “Do Us a Flavor” promotion—where consumers voted on four new flavors of Lay’s Potato Chips: Cappuccino, Wasabi Ginger, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese and Mango Salsa. Wasabi Ginger emerged as the winner.
So-called “better-for-you” innovation in chips was paced by protein and vegetables. On the protein front, Quest Protein Chips from El Segundo, Calif.-based Quest Nutrition use whey- and milk-based protein to deliver 21g of protein per serving. ProTings Protein Chips are similar, but use pea protein and aim at “gym rats” tired of high-protein shakes and bars.
Tremendous growth in “veggie snacking” gained attention from snack giants like General Mills. The company’s Green Giant Cheddar Baked Veggie Puffs are “made with real vegetables.”
Kale gained ground, popping up in products such as Supereats Kale+Chia chips—a tortilla-like chip with 70% of the daily value of vitamin A and 80% of vitamin C. Other vegetables are challenging kale, though. Brussels sprouts emerged in 2014, represented by Wonderfully Raw Brussel Bytes, a Brussels sprout and coconut snack mix in flavors such as Chili Pumpkin Seed Crunch.
Popcorn innovation continued at a torrid pace in 2014, paced by indulgence and health trends. On the health side, kale, seaweed and Himalayan pink salt are trendy ingredients. Woburn, Mass.-based Quinn Foods’ debuted Quinn Kale & Sea Salt Farm-to-Bag Popcorn. Meanwhile, seaweed, toasted sesame, chia seeds and spices combine in 479 Degrees Toasted Sesame & Seaweed Artisan Popcorn.
Himalayan pink mineral salt staked a claim as a new functional health ingredient. Wilton, Conn.-based LesserEvil Brand Snack Company used it for Lesser Evil Buddha Bowl Himalayan Pink Organic Popcorn. Claimed to be the “truest and purest form of salt on the planet,” Himalayan pink mineral salt is reportedly prized for healing and restorative properties, including bone health and blood pressure benefits.
Reduced-calorie popcorn got a shot in the arm from ConAgra’s new Skinnygirl Popcorn. Sold in mini-bags with just 25 calories per cup, the microwave popcorn was marketed as a “permissible indulgence” for calorie-concerned women. But other popcorns, such as Pipcorn White Truffle Popcorn and Pop It! Top It! Snickerdoodle Candy-Coated Popcorn Kit, threw calorie caution to the wind. Hot-and-spicy popcorns also were a “thing” in 2014, especially sriracha-flavored popcorns.
Meat snacks had a strong run in 201, with bacon jerky trending along with “craft” jerky products. Kraft Foods’ Oscar Mayer brand hopped on the bacon jerky bandwagon with Bourbon Barbecue Seasoned Bacon Jerky. Minong, Wisc.-based Link Snacks Inc. added Jack Link’s Small Batch Handcrafted Beef Jerky—“slow cooked in small batches”—to be “ultra-tender” and “intensely smoky.”
One odd pairing in meat snacks was wine and beef, with Sonoma, California-based Krave Pure Foods and Clos du Bois winery pairing up for wine-infused Krave Chardonnay Honey Rosemary Turkey Jerky and Cabernet Sauvignon Balsamic Blackberry Beef Jerky. Wine makes functional and flavor sense by fighting the tendency of jerky to dry out.
Like many snacks, seeds and nuts also split between indulgence and health. Indulgence was stronger in 2014, helped by Kraft Foods’ Planters Pumpkin Spice Almonds, as well as its new array of Planters Peanuts flavors: Salted Caramel, Cocoa, Smoked and Chipotle. The latter are flavored after roasting for better flavor “pop.” Flavors were expected to help peanuts restore share lost to trendier almonds and hazelnuts.
Sprouted seeds could be a new trend to watch. Sprouting reportedly made Go Raw Sprouted Watermelon Seeds easier to chew and digest than raw watermelon seeds. Mountain View, Calif.-based Freeland Food pitched the seeds as a good source of protein (11g per ounce), and iron.