KANSAS CITY — Snack companies are taking the momentum from 2019 into the future, and that means they are innovating to penetrate different snacking opportunities.

One of the biggest trends is toward breakfast snacks. One recent example is the Smart Tart! from Smart Co., Los Angeles. The two-pack of breakfast pastries includes 16 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. The snacks offer individualization because they don’t come frosted. Instead, the company suggests a variety of toppings, including peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut spread or even Greek yogurt.

Innovations in form, ingredients and flavors drove categories like breakfast snacks to positive dollar sales and volume growth in 2019, and refrigerated snacks are following suit thanks to their fresh perception, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, client insights, for IRI.

“The opportunity exists around complete snacking, and this healthy halo that refrigeration has, it was in both core and expanded snacks,” she said.

One example is the Organic Overnight Oat Bar from Core Foods, Los Angeles. Available in six flavors, Coconut Cashew Mango, Dark Chocolate Cherry, Lemon Poppy Seed, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Blueberry Banana, the snacks offer the health benefits of overnight oats in bar form. They contain no sugar or preservatives, and they combine probiotics with prebiotics to enhance gut health. They last in a refrigerator for several months and stay good for up to a week outside of the fridge.

While the oat bars clearly target consumers focused on wellness, other indulgent snacks are experiencing some of the highest dollar sales growth totals, according to IRI.

“Although there are many consumers out there looking for clean label or free-from statements on the pack, not all consumers are focused on that.” — Sally Lyons Wyatt, IRI

Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, recently launched Cheetos Popcorn to take its famous flavors into a new snack category. The ready-to-eat popcorn is available in Cheddar and Flamin’ Hot flavors.

“We’ve seen the way Cheetos lovers don their red- and orange-dusted fingers like a badge of honor, and we’re always looking for ways to help them step up their snacking game,” said Brandi Ray, senior director of marketing, Frito-Lay North America. “The only way to truly take popcorn to the next level is to add the iconic Cheetle, the cheesy dust that will entice Cheetos fans to snack on this popcorn all year long.”

According to IRI, indulgent snacks saw a 27% increase in dollar sales between January and March. The wellness category saw 28% increase, and permissible indulgences grew 25%.

Ms. Lyons Wyatt said balance is the key to success for snack makers in this new world.

Spelling it out

Targeting specific consumers who crave indulgent comfort, wellness or permissible indulgence means putting their needs first. Each of these categories experienced growth from different segments of the population.

Some product lines are versatile and can offer one product per segment. For example, someone craving indulgence might go right for original Cheetos, while someone watching what they eat might go for the Simply Cheetos Crunchy, which offers fewer calories and is more of a permissible indulgence. The key, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said, is putting specifics on packaging to attract the right customer.

“Putting grams on the front of package and touting that has really resonated with consumers,” she said.

Label claims like gluten-free, non-GMO and organic are still in vogue, Ms. Lyons Wyatt added. The number of products advertising these claims has steadily risen over the past five years, but the overall wellness category has also posted increased dollar sales.

“The fact that those claims are growing says a lot about the fact that they’re still resonating,” she said.

However, that growth is matched by indulgent snacks.

“Consumers love their snacks,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “And their snacks are fitting different roles. And some of the roles are for clean and transparent and minimal ingredients and meeting different needs. And some are just because it’s the snack they love, and they don’t care, they just enjoy it. And all of them are winning.”

One relatively new category of label claims is energy. Success stories include the BeBold Energy Bar from BeBold, Westwood, Mass., and the CLIF Coffee bar line from Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif.

BeBold was founded by pita chip pioneer Stacy Madison, who founded Stacy’s Pita Chip Co. The refrigerated energy bars feature almond butter or peanut butter, oats, dairy-free chocolate chips, wildflower honey, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and dark maple syrup. The bars also pack in 7 grams of protein.

CLIF Coffee bars add caffeine to the mix as they are inspired by coffeehouse favorites and crafted with sustainably sourced organic coffee beans from Colombia. New varieties include Vanilla Almond Latte, Caramel Macchiato and Dark Chocolate Mocha.

IRI data from 2019 shows that diet frenzies shape the market as half the consumers in each age group are looking for calorie, sugar or fat claims on the front of the package. Keto claims were up 2.1%, low-sugar claims increased 2.3%, and plant-based claims rose 15.2% in 2019.

“Although there are many consumers out there looking for clean label or free-from statements on the pack, not all consumers are focused on that,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “And even those who are focused on it may not be concerned with it on every snacking occasion. So it’s important to understand different consumer segments, different demand spaces, different need states in order to understand which product types and categories in which these claims are most relevant. If you can understand this relative to your consumer base, you can target your efforts accordingly.”

Despite the uncertainty ahead, snack producers can leverage the insights from 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic to see which trends have staying power and which ones will fade. No matter who the consumer is, snacking’s relevance remains crystal clear in today’s environment.