Consumers are embracing flavor innovation in popcorn

Total US retail sales of popcorn increased 32% in the last five years to reach an estimated $2.5bn in 2017, with RTE popcorn leading the flavor innovation wave, growing 118% between 2012 to 2017, reaching $1.1bn, according to Mintel.

“Popcorn sales have been on the rise in recent years and now the category is shifting from traditional flavors toward more dynamic flavors and combinations, driven by the ready-to-eat (RTE) segment which has seen sales more than double since 2012,”​ John Owen, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said.

Traditional flavors such as cheese and chocolate/caramel covered are still pulling in most of the dollar sales, taking a 49% and 32% share respectively, but consumers are also interested in new flavor combinations and added mixed-in ingredients such as dried cranberries or candy as well as season flavors (e.g. pumpkin spice, gingerbread).

“RTE popcorn brands are finding success not only through an expanding array of creative new flavors, but also by tapping into growing interest in healthy, natural and portable snacks and eating occasions. The popcorn segment, and RTE popcorn in particular, is likely to continue benefiting from a generally healthy image as well as its suitability as a medium for a wide range of flavors and toppings,” ​said Owen.

“As such, there is an opportunity for brands in other salty snack segments to innovate with unexpected flavors to engage consumers, especially among younger generations who, our research shows, are looking for variety in the salty snack aisle.”

Where do other salty snacks stand?

The salty snacks category continues to hold a large share of stomach compared to other sub-categories – growing sales by 5% over the last five years reaching $11.9bn in 2017 – yet many consumers have said they are eating fewer salty snacks compared to last year.

Many salty snacks are still seen as an ‘acceptable indulgence,’ according to Mintel, with two in five consumers agreeing that taste is more important than health when selecting salty snacks. However, nearly half (48%) of consumers are still on the lookout for healthy snack options.

The rise of meat snacks represents the largest (30% market share) and fastest growing segment of the salty snacks category increasing sales by 45% in the last five years to reach $3.6bn in 2017, mainly drawing spending dollars from the 18- to 34 -year-old age group, Mintel said.

Portable packaging when it comes to meat snacks is among the most important features of a product, added Owen.

“Our research shows that young salty snack purchasers place extra value on the portability of meat snacks, as well as its versatility to be eaten beyond snacking occasions. There is an opportunity for brands to position meat snacks for breakfast, where protein and portability have become essential attributes,”​ continued Owen.

Salty snacks historically have been seen as an indulgence by consumers, but there are many opportunities for salty snack brands to position their products with a healthier image, according to Owen.

“The diverse salty snacks category benefits from the increasing prevalence of snacking and the blurring line between traditional meal times and snacking occasions,”​ Owen said.

“There are opportunities for brands to shift their messaging and new product development to better position salty snacks as a healthy snacking option, such as popcorn, or more nutrient-dense, such as meat snacks, to continue the category’s growth.”

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