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Opinion: Salty sensations in the snacking aisle

No other category in the food industry is as flavour-focused as salty snacks. It has become a hotbed of innovation in recent years, as brands invent increasingly creative ways to excite taste buds and demonstrate value to consumers. From healthier snacking indulgence to international cuisine and bold ingredients, flavours are the driving force of the snacking category. Doug Resh, director of commercial marketing at T Hasegawa USA, explains how brands can tap into the latest trends for salty snacks. While the flavour industry continues to introduce new technology that expands the possibilities of snack flavours, we also need to stay ahead of emerging trends that are shaping the snack category. Smarter snacking with premium and BFY ingredients While the snack category isn’t renowned for healthy offerings, consumers are seeking better-for-you (BFY) options that feature quality natural ingredients with increased transparency. In competitive categories, brands need to continually deliver value, with naturally flavoured and recognisable ingredients signalling premium in the snack category. More than 60% of US consumers in a recent Mintel survey cited “fruit” as an ingredient that would make a snack seem healthy, along with an average of 40-50% for “seeds” and “oats.” While consumer interest in healthier snacks is at an all-time high, the snacking category still needs to satisfy cravings and flavour is often the common ground between BFY and indulgence. Despite the growing demand for healthy and functional ingredients in snacks, there is still room for indulgence through compelling flavours. A recent Mintel survey indicated that 37% of consumers feel that unique flavours make health snacks feel more indulgent.

Taking risks in the snack category The snack category is unusual because these foods are sought by consumers for comfort and familiarity, but it’s also the category where the most flavour experimentation occurs. Consumers are most likely to have a positive experience with flavors that have some grounding in the familiar, such as a flavor from another food or a combination with something they have already tried. Despite the appeal of familiarity, consumers are more willing to take risks with snack flavours than perhaps any other category. More than 42% of consumers in a recent Mintel survey said they are eating more salty snacks than last year and more than a third said they are trying new/exciting flavors. The excitement of flavour drives trial in the snack category, so brands can use unique flavours to capture both the BFY and indulgent-minded consumers. Serving-up excitement through bold snack flavours In a category that is driven by experimentation, it’s no surprise that bold flavours are growing popular throughout salty snacks. The inspiration for bold snack flavours is often found through social media and viral trends, which pique consumer interest and drive product innovation. Snack brands can look online to foster their boldest and most expansive flavour ideas and tap into the opportunity for online retail channels. One of the surprising breakout flavours in recent years across the snack category is dill pickle. Quirky and fun, yet familiar – dill pickle is seeing strong interest across consumers from all generations. Dill pickle flavour is inherently salt-friendly and pairs well with trending cooling ranch and spicy flavours, giving it extra versatility. Both consumers and food brands are finding inspiration for salty snacks in global flavours and often these have cross-category appeal. In recent years, Mexican-inspired foods like elote (grilled corn) and even sweet treats like churros have rapidly grown as sweet hybrid flavours within the salty snack category. New product introductions featuring churro flavour have grown by more than 400% since 2020, demonstrating the broad appeal and potential of this Mexican dessert as it’s introduced to other categories, including snacks. Another key global flavour influencing the snack category recently is Korean cuisine. Fueled by foodservice and even pop-culture exposure, Korean cuisine was one of the few international cuisines to grow its user base in 20221. Two staple Korean foods, bulgogi (or Korean BBQ) and kimchi, are driving snack brand initiatives to tap into the adventurous palates of Gen-Z consumers, while also mainstreaming Korean foods, one robust flavour profile at a time.

Turning up the heat It’s no surprise that consumers love high-heat foods, and the snack category is no exception. One clear indicator of this trend is the hot sauce market in North America, which was valued at more than $1.2 billion in 2021 with a CAGR of 7.1% through 2028, and accounts for more than 40% of the global chilli hot sauce market. As consumers grew a taste for spicy foods through hot sauces like sriracha, this trend opened the door for other globally-inspired hot flavours such as Gochujang. In a competitive environment, many brands are using the intrigue of trending pepper varietals to create unique spicy taste experiences once dominated by jalapeno or habanero. Consumer interest in capsicum varietals and combinations such as Thai chilli, chilli mango, hatch chilli and peri-peri have been growing directionally in recent years. In addition to heat, these pepper flavours also deliver a tangy profile that is well-suited for salty snacks. Much of the interest in these hot flavours is driven by younger Gen-Z and Millennial consumers, who are introduced to these ingredients at foodservice and through social media. Future flavours in salty snacks There is endless space and possibility for innovation within snacks – it’s the one food category where there are no rules. Consumers are eager for exciting new salty snack flavours and willing to take a risk and try the unexpected. The growth of social media trends and internet culture means brands and consumers can rapidly share new ideas about the limitless possibilities of snack foods. Brands that continually push the boundaries and leverage the technical innovations and expertise of the flavour industry are primed for success as the snack category continues to grow.


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