What’s trending in snacks right now?

22 May 2024, 07:00 AM
  • The appetite for snacks and on-the-go bites is rising in the UK, but just what are consumers looking for? Speciality Food investigates
What’s trending in snacks right now?

The snacking market in the UK is storming…and that shows no signs of abating, with analysts at Mintel predicting sales of crisps, savoury snacks and nuts to exceed £7 billion by 2028.

Today, what consumers are reaching for has changed, with serious innovation having transformed this sector. Beyond snuggling up on the sofa with a sharing bag of crisps, or eating a cereal or fruit snack bar on the fly, busy shoppers are relying ever more on snacks to fill nutritional gaps in their diet, boosting their intake of fibre, fruit and veg or functional vitamins and minerals. They’re also increasingly interested in ingredient decks, and the ‘natural’ claims of what they’re munching on at their desks, post-gym, or on the school run.

Tom Gatehouse of strategic food consultancy group, Egg Soldiers, says the concept of snacking is evolving as people move away from mealtime norms “in favour of quick, flavourful and affordable options enjoyed throughout the day”.

He’s noticing brands skewing new product development towards a younger audience, from Millennials and Gen Z to the incoming Gen Alpha, who are considered “the driving force behind the evolution of snacks”, with a strong movement forming, revolutionising the look, feel and style of snacks “particularly focussed on being eye-catching to those younger demographics.”

For example, “SMUG launched last year as a new UK crisps disruptor, with its first flavour being Cacio e Pepe. Its packaging is 100% compostable, and its branding as eye-catching as they come. This brand is a shining example of how snacking brands can revamp at every turn.”

On a global scale, says Kate Kehoe of FMCG Gurus, the afternoon is peak snacking time, with the group’s insights revealing 51% of consumers snack between lunch and dinner. Chocolate comes out as top choice, followed by crisps, with 43% saying it’s their preferred snack.

Echoing Tom’s suggestion that snacking is becoming more normalised, FMCG Guru’s data also shows 28% of consumers are nibbling between set mealtimes more frequently.

Healthier snacks

Healthful snacking is entering something Tom considers almost a “new dawn”, driven by consumers and delivered by exciting new concepts particularly in the functional and natural arenas. 

Lucid, which offers a targeted range of functional mushroom and adaptogenic snack bars, is a good example,” Tom says, “with the London-based startup having both ‘de-stress’ and ‘re-vitalise’ offerings powered by reishi and lion’s mane mushrooms respectively. The playfulness comes through in both the design and the flavours, which range from banana bread and cookie dough to peanut butter jelly and chocolate hazelnut.”

Protein-based snacks, Tom adds, are also key players for retailers to stock. “I’ve seen some interesting protein-rich, low-fat jerky launches of late, with both meat and meat-free options a health-forward route for brands pushing both at-home and on-the-go snacking benefits.”

Of all the health claims on-pack, Kate says sugar content is the most sought-after information consumers are looking for, and FMCG Gurus predicts they will be increasingly mindful of how snacking impacts their health.

This is something that is being considered widely in industry, with a tide of new HFSS-compliant products having come to market in the last two years. 

“We expect to see more HFSS-compliant products hitting the shelves,” says Vanessa Richardson of SNACMA (Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers’ Association). “Consumers are keen to see healthier products without compromising on flavour.” This move is already being reflected in developments at large conglomerates such as PepsiCo, which has an ambition for 50% of its sales to be from HFSS-friendly products under 100 calories per portion, by 2025.

“Last year it was reported that major brands selling HFSS-compliant products saw an average increase of sales of 27% across British supermarkets,” Vanessa adds, saying nutrition is becoming more of a concern as shoppers look for more ‘positive’ snacking options such as those high in fibre and minerals, or abundant with nuts and seeds. “Some brands are investing in alternatives to potato and wheat such as Taylor’s Lentil Waves and Burt’s Lentil Chips.”

Snacking trends

Trade events are hotbeds for innovation and inspiration, and the organisers of one of the UK’s biggest food and drink showcases – IFE – have a front row seat when it comes to spotting the ‘next big thing’.

IFE event manager, Federico Dellafiore, says this year he saw snack brands continuing to invest in exciting free-from products, and experimenting with ingredients such as pea protein, chia seeds and natural bacteria. “Plus, a number of brands were showcasing crisps that were popped not fried, focussing on reducing their fat content to create a healthier option.”

Other than health claims, Federico sees sustainability as the trend to watch in snacks, adding that it remains at the top of the agenda for brands, “with even newer names like Soak’d Oats putting forward comprehensive carbon reduction plans and Net Zero roadmaps, and brands like Prodigy Snacks investing in B Corp certification and partnering with charities tackling plastic in oceans.”

Another trend the IFE team noticed this year was elevated versions of timeless classics. “Brands such as Denmark’s OK Snacks were showcasing Awfully Posh pork crackling and crunchy snacking cheese – taking pub snack classics and refining them with some tasty results,” says Federico.

“As is often the case in the world of snacks, many international brands were also leading the way in new product innovation and exciting flavours for the UK market. Indian supplier, Makino, for example, showcased high protein Super Nachos Indian Chaat, and Corn Munch Red Chilli Chatka, and Canada’s Dare Foods brought their Zesty Ranch and All Dressed flavours of veggie crisps. Hopefully this reflects a consumer desire to be more adventurous when it comes to snacking, seeing out unfamiliar flavours and brands.”

Food innovation consultant Jennifer Earle’s predictions for the direction of travel in snacking lead to dehydrated fruit and veg, legumes and Indian flavours or spicing.

“I personally love dehydrated or freeze-dried fruits as a snack, plus kale chips, and products made with legume flours,” she says. “Recently I’ve particularly enjoyed Czech-based company Luskeeto’s handmade, baked lentil crackers which are still a similar fat percentage to crisps, but higher in protein and a bit more satiating.”

Jennifer has also been snacking on newly launched chocolate-coated frozen raspberries from Froot Pops, and chocolate-covered freeze-dried mango from Filipino company, Auro.

She’s seeing “more legume and ancient grain flours being used instead of wheat, and more dried fruit instead of sugar”, and “chilli and lime seems to be a big flavour combination that many brands have brought out, but also fermented ingredient flavours too, like miso and pickle.”

Jennifer is excited about Indian-themed snacks in familiar taste profiles, like masala-flavoured crisps and crackers, “or Bombay mix launches or popped lotus seeds which have a healthier angle. I also think we’ll see more filled or covered dates too.”

Tom thinks ‘artisanal’ and ‘playful’ are the ones to watch in snacking. And “keep an eye out too for a greater synergy between snack and street food, with a greater spotlight on authentic street food formats potentially leading (when applicable) to convenient, on-the-go snacking innovation.”

The most popular snacking flavours right now

‘Meaty’ as a flavour is reigning supreme right now and leading the charge in the snacking market, says Tom, who is beginning to see more ‘barbecue expressions’ across the category, such as Korean or American barbecue.

Greg Smith, head of marketing at Taylor’s Snacks, says they’ve been watching flavour and format trends very closely in the past year to ensure the company is aligned with changing consumer tastes in 2024. “Insights suggest that a combination of sweet and spicy or sweet and salty snacks are primed to tantalise tastebuds,” he says. “Hot honey and salted caramel are two flavours we’re exploring for crisps and popcorn this year.”

While Vanessa is seeing leanings towards spicier products, and world and exotic flavours…as well as a yearning for classic and traditional tastes.

It’s ‘old favourites’ that are driving sales at Fairfields Farm, which has just expanded its range, launching a new Prawn Cocktail flavour. “We’ve been looking forward to launching these for a long time,” says commercial director Tash Jones. “Robert, our co-founder, has always been a prawn cocktail fan, but there wasn’t a call for it in the ‘posh’ side of the hand-cooked crisp market until recently.”

Tash says she’s seen a “huge trend for Millennials trying to get joy from nostalgia. It’s definitely a significant trend within our core market”.

The brand’s newest flavour has been benchmarked across the whole industry to ensure it stands out, while also being (as is the rest of the range) vegan and gluten free.

“We wanted a flavour where you can definitely taste the prawns in it,” Tash says. “A lot of them have a sharp vinegar taste, but these have almost a two-stage flavour punch, starting with a hit of vinegar that then rounds out with more of a Marie Rose creaminess.”

Fairfields’ bestsellers remain Salt & Vinegar and Lightly Salted, with Tash saying they’ll always have a place in retail, no matter what weird and wonderful creations come up. “But, I would say we are seeing a surge in those meaty flavours.” Like Tom, Tash thinks this is where the snacking market is heading. “Roast Rib of Beef does really well for us, and Bacon & Tomato is starting to take over. That reflects the market as a whole. There are definitely a lot more spice and meaty flavours.”

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