Innovation is vital in the impulse-driven snack market, and it appears both retailers and shoppers are becoming more receptive to new products than they were in recent years.

“Consumers show more interest in concepts that contribute to the taste and flavor of salty snacks compared to interest in certain BFY (better for you) attributes,” said Kelsey Olsen, food and drink analyst, Mintel. “Additionally, we have seen crossovers across a wide range of categories, pointing to the idea that anything can be a snack.”

Mintel’s 2024 “Salty Snacks report” noted 30% of consumers are interested in trying salty snacks with seasonal twists, 29% of them expressed interest in snacks made with flavors from other brands, 27% are interested in tasting products inspired by international flavors, 24% of consumers are looking for salty snacks that are diet-friendly and 21% of those surveyed would like snacks with functional attributes.

Moreover, 30% of salty snack consumers, led by Generation Z and millennials, report that they seek out new flavors, 35% of them report that they would consider purchasing more salty snacks if there were more interesting flavors, and 29% agree that it’s fun to try snacks with unusual flavors.

Beth Carreon, president of Coco Bakery, an operating company part of Canadian-based Bond Bakery Brands that serves customers on both sides of the border, suggested the biggest hurdle for cookie and snack companies involves standing out from the pack where countless manufacturers and brands compete with one another.

“Consumers are looking for three things,” she said. “Functional ingredients to address health-and-wellness trends, snacks that allow them to indulge — but often in single-serve formats — and flavors that are either exotic and adventurous or bring a sense of nostalgia.”

She added Coco Bakery has focused on single-serve indulgences in on-trend flavors as an area of growth. The company launched macarons in nostalgic flavors like Birthday Cake and Peanut Butter and Jam.

“Similarly, our cake pops come in nostalgic flavors like Birthday Cake and Red Velvet, but in the single-serve format that is easy to say ‘yes’ to,” Carreon said. “Innovation is at the core of everything we do. Our ears are constantly on the ground for emerging trends in flavors and formats. We heard from our customers and consumers that ‘snacks on a stick’ were exciting for them, and launched our Mac Pops, chocolate dipped macarons on sticks, which have been a source of growth for Coco Bakery in the last six months. By constantly engaging with our customers and consumers and sharing feedback with our agile product development team, we are able to quickly address trends and launch new products.” 

Cara Figgins, president, Partners, a Tasteful Choice company based in Des Moines, Wash., suggested the new product fog is lifting from the pandemic and supply chain issues of the past few years.

“I think there was sort of a COVID hangover that had lasted for a little while,” she explained. “People have regained their enthusiasm for bringing in new products. The buyers just needed more time to regroup themselves. Now everyone is looking for new items. What can they do to refresh? Are there price points that can be competitive but with items that bring consumers to their departments? We’re seeing a lot more enthusiasm.”

Partners is rolling out sourdough-style flatbreads for in-store bakery/delis that come in Rosemary, Garlic Herb and Sea Salt varieties with a clean ingredient label that reinforces the homemade, back-to-basics focus on the ingredients. Over the past few years, the company has also expanded in the private label and co-manufacturing arenas.

“We have a pretty diverse portfolio of what we do,” Figgins said. “Retailers are more open to looking at new items. We seem to be getting a lot of interest in not just the new deli products, but also in our All American line, which is a center-store snack item.”

Calbee America, Fairfield, Calif., is expanding the presence of its Japanese legacy snacks and introducing them to mainstream US grocers.

Maiko Shimano, senior marketing manager, said those products include JagaRico, tasty and crunchy potato sticks made with potatoes and vegetables that come in Original and Hokkaido Butter flavors.

The company is also moving its iconic Shrimp Chips, which are wheat-puffed snacks made with sushi-grade, wild-caught shrimp, from the Asian and international sections of stores to a broader audience.

“We’re seeing a trend toward bold, unexpected flavor combinations,” Shimano observed.

He added that Calbee recognized a gap in the marketplace for wholesome, fruit-based snacks geared toward children and will be expanding its Harvest Snaps offerings with a kid-friendly lineup featuring nutrient-dense fruits as the No. 1 ingredient.

Moreover, the company launched Crunchy Loops Hot & Spicy snacks that are made with red lentils and turn up the heat and flavor for health-conscious consumers.

Rudolph Foods also ratcheted up the heat with Hot Honey and Pineapple Ancho Chile pork rinds under the Southern Recipe brands, said Mark Singleton, vice president of sales and marketing, for the Dallas-based company.

Rudolph is also launching a new Fire & Lime flavor within the Pepe’s Chicharrónes line.

“It’s purposely hot. It’s not subtle,” Singleton said. “It’s supposed to be hot with an explosion of heat and lime like we’ve never put on a pork rind, so we’re really excited about that.”

In Canada, Rudolph offers an All-Dressed variety that features a north-of-the-border, classic combination of ketchup, barbecue sauce, sour cream and onion, and salt and vinegar.

“It’s one of the best things we have ever put on a pork rind,” Singleton noted. “I cannot eat enough of them.”