Extruded Snacks: Puffing Up Sales

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Offering shoppers a plethora of innovative flavor introductions, some better-for-you attributes and other health halos, extruded snacks have begun garnering more attention at retail.

The sector falls within the salty snack segment, which this past year increased dollar sales nearly 4 percent and units by 2.7 percent, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) data. Sales for extruded snacks appear even stronger, as two of the sector’s most visible players — pork rinds and cheese puffs — each outpaced total segment dollar sale during 2015.

These results are expected to continue as flavor and health trends endure among shoppers. In addition, growth will be driven by demand in developing regions, such as Asia-Pacific, India and Latin America. As a result, global extruded snack sales are anticipated to reach $31 billion by 2019, according to researcher MarketsandMarkets.

“Extruded snacks have become versatile options because they are delivering against different consumer snacking needs,” says Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive and general manager of client insights for IRI. “Some have become part of wellness plans for adults and kids who either graze throughout the day or eat meals plus snacks.”

SLayout 1he adds extruded snacks can appear as healthier options for items leveraging “baked not fried” claims, while the segment’s ability to play into a number of flavor trends satisfies shoppers seeking variety.

“In addition, the texture of extruded items is different than other snacks and provides the ability to offer different shapes and sizes to keep the sector exciting and fun,” Lyons Wyatt adds.

Capturing the better-for-you trend, among other hot product properties, is the Daily Crave line of extruded snacks from Natural Intentions, Inc. Company founder and CEO Hassan Alireza tells Candy & Snack TODAY the ability to meet these trends is inherent in the products’ makeup.

“The other trend is using new types of grains in the base rather than just corn for the better-for-you snack segment,” agrees Bob Clark, vice-president of marketing for Herr Foods, Inc.

Alireza notes Daily Crave items are made using ancient grains, such as quinoa, and on-trend legumes, both of which are seeing increased use across the sector.

“The main reason the products are popular is because the ingredients are so simple. By the time we’re done with production, only a handful of ingredients go into the items,” Alireza says.Extruded Snacks Stats

However, he admits that while having a clean label is nice, it is really the taste, texture and “fun” part of the items that turn shoppers into repeat purchasers.

“When you use lentil flours, they react differently than potato flour. It took a while to develop this product to meet consumer demand for taste, texture and mouthfeel,” he explains, noting the line has a more than 92 percent favorable rating in any taste test.

Gluten-free options are also resonating with shoppers seeking products with better-for-you and simple ingredient lists, according to Lyons Wyatt.

Flavors Go Global

While clean labels aren’t showing signs of slowing, the biggest market drivers for extruded snacks are the twin flavor trends of bolder profiles and more indulgent products, Clark says.

“Our process is becoming more closely aligned to flavor trends from around the world,” he says. “Younger consumers are interested in flavors that originate in other parts of the world and cultures.”

Clark adds Herr’s partners with ingredient suppliers, and conducts in-house research, to uncover these emerging taste trends.

“The other trend is using new types of grains in the base rather than just corn for the better-for-you snack segment.” — Bob Clark, Herr Foods, Inc.

The company seems to be hitting the right note with younger demographics, as IRI reports younger shoppers are seeking products with herb and spice blends, Mexican-influences, and tangy and spicy flavor profiles.

While lentils might be a better-for-you ingredient to build a snack base with, Alireza admits, on their own, they aren’t very tasty.

“That was the biggest challenge,” he says. “You need to dress lentils up somehow and use a process that incorporates other ingredients to build the base. From there you can salt and flavor it.”

Seeking to further differentiate its line, Daily Crave turned to pink Himalayan sea salt for some of its products.  Alireza explains the variety has a better health halo, as it contains 84 minerals that also impart the pink hue.

Capturing a different segment of the market, Mikesell’s Snack Food Co. recently launched salted caramel puff corn, playing on the salty and sweet trend, reports Larry Mapp, director of sales and marketing services.

On its face, the salty and sweet trend seems perfectly aligned with younger consumers. Yet, IRI finds that sweet flavor profiles garner attention from older generations when it comes to salty snacks.

The company isn’t ignoring trending flavors among younger demographics though, as it also offers regionally inspired Southwestern Queso cheese snacks, which layer flavors onto the cheese curls to deliver a novel eating experience.

Extruded Snacks Image 2When considering which avenues to pursue, Mikesell’s implemented a taste-testing program to determining what would sell long term.

“We wanted to see if certain flavors were very niche,” he says. “When consumers rank niche flavor, they say ‘they’re fun to eat, but not a whole bag.’ It’s important to remember that it’s not only what retailers say, but to listen to consumers, too.”

Also using recent developments in flavor layering, Daily Crave launched Smoked Gouda lentil chips. During a seven month R&D process, the company used innovations to deliver a very specific cheese flavor that is backed with smoky afternotes, Alireza says. The company uses a similar process for its tomato basil items.

“The pellets themselves are so complex with the different ingredients,” he says, noting quinoa carries a nutty profile. “It gives you multiple flavors that come through as the snack is eaten. They are much more complex than traditional extruded snacks.”

Reaching Across Generations  

While the flavor profiles might seem exotic, the consumers purchasing extruded snacks don’t differ much from overall salty snacks.

“I would say it is anyone. From children, who love veggie sticks, to adults,” Alireza says, noting: “But children really love that product.”

This segmentation is confirmed by Herr’s Clark, who notes households with children tend to be the most common buyers, with cheese flavors remaining top sellers. “Many of the newer, better-for-you brands are still catering to mom, who shops for the entire family,” he adds.

“Extruded snacks have become versatile options because they are delivering against different consumer snacking needs.” – Sally Lyons Wyatt, Information Resources, Inc.

Although most consumers eat salty snacks, Lyons Wyatt tells Candy & Snack TODAY the extruded segment tends to be more popular with Gen Xers and Hispanics.

However, older consumers aren’t shying away from extruded snacks either, according to Mapp. “Kids like the flavors and that it melts in their mouths,” he explains. “But we also hear that elderly shoppers really love puff corn too, for those same reasons. It’s not hard on their teeth or dentures.”

To reach these shoppers, snack makers are using a tried and true strategy: partnerships across entertainment and other food sectors.

“Cross promotions with licensed flavors, such as Old Bay, are helpful in gaining new distribution,” says Clark, who notes Herr’s leans on social media and seasonal advertising to further drive awareness of its products.

However, Alireza notes that the best way to drive sales is to follow the old merchandising motto: “Pile them high and watch them fly.”

“If the  product has a good taste and mouthfeel, once the display is out with the right price, consumers zone in on it,” he explains, noting this can drive multiple pack purchases if the value is evident. “Displays and a good product get you all the turns you need.” CST