By Jami Gibson

This month, my research was focused on the snack food industry. After studying over 100 companies, I came away with not only an increased appetite, but also with some insight about where the industry stands now, and where it’s headed. Here are a few trends that I see happening within the sector.

Companies are offering more healthy snack options
As an answer to a more health-conscious society, snack food manufacturers are creating new, better-for-you products or revamping their existing products to cut down on trans fats and sodium. Baked snacks are becoming increasingly popular as are chips made from fruits and vegetables.

Companies are expanding into niche markets
Based on a rise in demand, manufacturers are creating product lines to appeal to certain niche markets. As more light in shed on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, many products are marketed as gluten-free. Organic and all natural products are gaining momentum as healthier alternatives to avoid chemically-treated food or those with artificial sweeteners and preservatives. Also, with the changing demographic of the country, ethnic snack foods are gaining popularity as are products with spicy flavorings such as wasabi, salsa, and chipotle.

Consumers are going nuts for nuts
Companies that manufacture nuts seem to be some of those that are experiencing the greatest growth. Whether the growth is due to the demand for healthier snacks (nuts are packed full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids) or the expansion of nut brands into products like trail mix and snack bars, some nut producers, like Diamond Foods, have experienced double digit sales growth over the last year.

Speaking of sales growth…

Sales for the industry are rising
However, this may be due to the increased cost of commodities, which are then passed along to the consumer.

While secondary research is my forte, I decided to try my hand at finding a little primary information. I asked the clerk at a local convenience store what snack products she noticed people buying the most. Her reply was that she sold mostly nuts, followed by Pringles, and lastly, sour snacks.

For more information on the snack food industry, here are a couple sources that may be helpful:

Snack Food Association
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery