Salty snacks become more appealing to health enthusiasts as new better-for-you options hit the market
The salty snack aisle certainly isn't the first place people visit when trying to eat healthier.
But thanks to new organic, gluten-free, reduced-sodium and lower-fat options, chips can easily fit into most diet plans.
Salty snacks generated $8.5 billion in food stores for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 31, a 2.3% rise from the same period in 2009, according to SymphonyIRI Group.
United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, recently started using the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System in its stores. The program assigns foods a score from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the healthier the item.
Because many have saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and forms of sugar, salty snacks typically get lower scores, said Tyra Carter, the chain's corporate dietitian.
But that doesn't mean all are off limits. Several items — including Food Should Taste Good All Natural Multigrain Tortilla Chips, Garden of Eatin' Blue Corn No Salt Chips, Sun Chips Original and Popcorn Indiana Original All Natural Kettlecorn — have relatively good scores. Garden of Eatin' Blue Chips All Natural Tortilla Chips even score a 40.
Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., carries plenty of better-for-you salty snacks, including Utz Rice Crisps, Snyder's multi-grain pretzels and Food Should Taste Good chips.
What's more, gluten-free snacks are getting more customer interest, so much so that Big Y is devoting more space to the segment, category manager Mark Rice told SN.
Big Y and other retailers SN interviewed said they're having strong success with new products like Pop Chips, which are neither fried nor baked. Rather, they're made through a heat-and-pressure process that creates a crispy, tasty chip with half the fat of fried potato chips. Trans fat- and cholesterol-free, the chips are seasoned with sea salt. Each single-serving bag has 120 calories and 4.5 grams of fat.
“Pop Chips are the newest better-for-you item and they seem to be [doing] well,” said Rice.
Reduced-sodium chips are another trend.
“We are expecting a major push from manufacturers at the beginning of 2011 that will include lower-sodium items,” said Rice.
Snyder's of Hanover, Hanover, Pa, plans to introduce a variety of new better-for-you snacks early next year, including lower-fat three-cheese nibblers and organic whole-wheat nibblers.
The manufacturer already markets a line of better-for-you products under its EatSmart Naturals brand, including multigrain tortillas, organic whole wheat and oat sticks, and veggie crisps.
Such items let people indulge while keeping their wellness plans in check, said Snyder's spokeswoman Andrea Bartman.
“We have plenty of options that help them indulge without feeling as if they've blown their diets,” she said.
Snyder's also offers a variety of 100-calorie packs, including a 22-count variety pack of pretzels. The packs continue to be popular products among people who are counting calories, said Bartman.
“If you buy a 12-ounce bag, chances are you'll keep munching, but if you have a portion-control bag, it keeps the calories in check,” she said.
As part of its better-for-you positioning, Snyder's ran a health-themed sweepstakes that concluded in March. Consumers could enter on the Snyder's website to win a Total Gym fitness machine.
Salty snacks are doing exceptionally well at Hiller's Markets, Southfield, Mich., according to Justin Hiller, vice president. Sales of one Snyder's pretzel product, for instance, recently soared 154% compared with year-ago numbers.
Hiller attributes the strong performance to these uncertain economic times, saying it's spurred many people to seek out comfort foods.
“As the economy turned, people went back to eating foods they enjoyed during their childhood and better times in their lives,” he said.
Several different salty snacks are part of Hiller's “Back to Basics” campaign, in which it discounts and bundles select comfort foods each week.
There are so many better-for-you chips on the market that several have been selected to carry Hiller's new “Low-Salt” shelf tags. These include Vic's popcorn, Terra low-salt chips and low-salt Cape Cod chips.
“People are making a conscious decision to live a healthier lifestyle, and manufacturers are responding with many healthy alternatives,” he said.
Take PepsiCo's Frito-Lay North America business unit, which recently introduced Fritos Lightly Salted corn chips and Ruffles Lightly Salted potato chips. The two new items join Lay's Lightly Salted potato chips, which were launched in 2000 in select markets but expanded to national distribution this year.
All three items have at least 50% less sodium per 1-ounce serving than their original counterparts.
Along with low-salt, there are plenty of other healthier items on store shelves, said Hiller.
One of the most popular at Hiller's is Veggie Straws, all-natural chips made from potatoes, tomatoes or spinach. They are “flash fried,” meaning fried quickly and then spun to rid the chip of excess oil. The process is said to create a crunchy snack that has 30% less fat than traditional chips.
Hiller's merchandises Veggie Straws next to regular potato chips.
“They taste great, but have 30% less fat, so they've become very popular,” Hiller said.
He orders five to 10 pallets once a month — a large order for a seven-store retailer.
Veggie Straws are packed with flavor, but not fat, said Stephanie Galliano, brand manager for Sensible Portions, the Hains Celestial company that markets Veggie Straws.
“We pride ourselves in having a family-friendly brand that appeals to all ages by being better for you without sacrificing flavor,” Galliano said. “The taste is key.”
Along with better-for-you options, the salty snack aisle is getting a lift from flavor innovations.
Frito-Lay, for instance, introduced Tostitos Artisan Recipes tortilla chips. Available in two flavors — Roasted Garlic & Black Bean and Fire-Roasted Chipotle — the chips are made with natural ingredients, like real black beans, garlic and chipotle peppers.
Also, Frito-Lay kicked off the football season by introducing a limited-edition, football-shaped version of its classic tortilla chips.