With consumers gearing their wants and needs toward better-for-you snacking options, the cracker category has had to evolve.
“Consumers are looking for more out of their snacks,” says Kim Holman, marketing director for Loves Park, Illinois-based TH Foods, maker of the Crunchmaster cracker line. “They are looking for functional benefits that taste great in a salty snack.”
Steve Lorenz, head of marketing for La Panzanella Artisanal Foods Co., a Tukwila, Washington-based manufacturer of crackers, cookies and more, agrees.
“At La Panzanella, we believe a key driver is a fundamental shift in overall eating patterns,” Lorenz says, noting the same trends of smaller meals and more snacks consumed throughout the day. “With this trend, consumers are looking for prepared foods or pre-packaged kits that not only meet their hunger but also address some level of nutrition.”
Of course, most of these options are available in the deli department and other specialized perimeter areas of the supermarket. Pairings like crackers and charcuterie and a bit of fruit make for a healthier option to meet the needs of these new and more frequent eating occasions, Lorenz says.
In turn, La Panzanella recently rolled out its line of Gluten-Free Oat Thins crackers to target those shoppers.
“The new crackers fit perfectly with the trend toward heathier snacking,” he says. “Deli managers who understand this shift and cross-merchandise accordingly will help their shoppers and benefit from increased sales.
TH Foods, meanwhile, is unveiling a bevy of new cracker products this summer, a combination of new flavors and healthy attributes.
“All of our concepts start with the consumer,” Holman says. “We know protein is a big deal and consumers want more of it in their diet. And if it’s plant protein, even better.”
Holman notes data from the International Food Information Council, saying 64 percent of consumers are trying to get more protein in their diet while 22 percent are looking for crackers with extra protein.
“When it comes to millennials, 60 percent are seeking protein snacks that are both nutritious and easy-to-go options,” Holman says. “Our own research found that 50 percent of customers found plant-based protein to be more appealing than other types of protein.”
Crunchmaster Protein Snack Crackers, which are rolling out in a new Toasted Coconut flavor, are an answer to that data. The company says the flavor of coconut meets the power of plant-based protein for a gluten-free cracker made with real coconut and five grams of plant-based protein per serving.
Today’s consumers have a more sophisticated palate and are more inclined to explore different foods and flavors, says Lorenz.
“This has been fueled by the integration of cultures and backgrounds in the U.S., which has resulted in a growing number of specialty food companies and brands on the market,” he says. “From the La Panzanella perspective, we are taking our Mini Croccantini and new Oat Thins cracker sampling to another level of sophistication. Instead of offering a demo program with only a cheese partner, we will often add a fruit puree and present a cheese and fruit combination. This pairing often surprises and delights the shopper and encourages them to purchase multiple items and categories within the deli or store.”
La Panzanella’s new Oat Thins line was developed with flavor in mind on multiple fronts with the company focusing on the cracker as a vehicle to carry the cheeses and other deli items, Lorenz says. “But we also gave them a rich enough flavor to be enjoyed on their own.”
The company landed on three flavor options: Toasted Oat, a base flavor that pairs well with anything; Rosemary, its No. 2 selling flavor; and Roasted Garlic, its fastest-growing flavor. “We knew we needed at least three flavors to launch. Enough to give retail buyers a choice as well as providing shoppers with a nice variety,” Lorenz says. “As we moved down the development funnel, we kept coming back to flavors that we have had success with in our Croccantini line.”
Several of the new Crunchmaster products focus on intriguing flavors, like the Chile Pasilla Multi-Seed Crackers, made with real pasillas, which are sweet, smoky peppers from Oaxaca, Mexico’s culinary center. The new Tuscan Peasant Crackers in Fire Roasted Tomato Basil flavor are billed as crunchy, robust baked crackers with a flavor inspired by old-world recipes.
“We also look at ingredient and flavor trends when we develop new products. We know that ‘flavor’ is a powerful tool to drive cracker sales (Mintel 2016 Cracker Report) and that millennials are looking for more flavors, especially sweet, savory, and spicy,” Holman says. “Coconut is a hot ingredient and flavor profile, with almost 5,000 new food and beverage products being introduced in the last three years with coconut as an ingredient or flavor.”