Consumers Focus on Flavor When Choosing Salty Snacks

Chew on these tangy findings from T. Hasegawa’s Salty Snack 2024 report.

April 01, 2024

Salty snacks boast the highest share of snack sales for c-stores—according to the NACS State of the Industry Report® of 2022 Data, salty snacks account for 4.6% of in-store sales with an average of $8,972 in sales per store, per month. (The latest data on salty snacks drops this week at the NACS State of the Industry Summit in Chicago.)

Doing a deep dive on the salty snack category, T. Hasegawa released its Salty Snack 2024 report, which looked at consumer preferences around snack choices, flavors, and willingness to try new innovations.

Here are a few key takeaways from the study:

There’s a focus on flavor: 60% of consumers said flavor is the most important part of a snack, while 56% said flavored snacks are an easy way to treat themselves. The same share of consumers (15%) said that bold snack flavors are too risky, while the other 15% said simple snack flavors are less satisfying.

“Consumers are increasingly drawn to bold and exciting flavors, which is why upgrading classic flavors like barbeque and ranch with additional taste has become so popular,” said the report.

“The use of the term ‘tangy’ to describe snacks has gained popularity as a way to highlight the sharpness and intensity of the flavor. This term can also be used as an umbrella term to describe snacks that are sour or have a distinct acidic taste, like pickle-flavored snacks. The trend toward tangy flavors reflects the desire of consumers to try new and exciting flavors that make snacking a more interesting and enjoyable experience.”

Certain snack flavors commanded consumers’ attention—sweet and savory combos won the ranking with 52%, followed by cheese (44%), unique flavors (43%), meat (38%) and seasonal/LTO flavors (34%).

According to the report, indulgent flavors are alluring to consumers when paired with better-for-you options. “Instead of depriving themselves of taste, consumers are now seeking ways to indulge in snacks that treat their taste buds and promote a sense of well-being.” They will look for snack preparations labeled “salted,” “roasted,” “toasted,” “buttered,” or “smoked,” to name a few.

Snack preferences vary by generation: Millennials gravitate toward bolder flavors and newer combinations, with 49% saying energy-boosting ingredients would make a snack satisfying, while for Gen Z and Gen X, it’s all about versatility for a wider range of pairings and uses. Fifty-four percent of Gen Z consumers said a sweet and savory combo makes a snack indulgent. The ideal combo for Gen Z is one that’s a “familiar base with a fun twist. Think a Tajín tortilla chip that can be used for nachos, a soup topper or solo,” said the report.

Consumers want variety in snack choices: They are equally open to trying new and classic options. “Brands, therefore, have the opportunity to continue offering traditional snacks while also exploring global flavors and limited-time offers. By doing so, they can cater to a diverse range of preferences and expand their customer base,” the report wrote.

Some swap snacks for meals: For many, the lines between meals and snacks are blurred—think, the viral “girl dinner” trend—and 26% of consumers said snacks and meals are interchangeable. Frito-Lay found similar sentiments in its fifth annual U.S. Snack Index, noting that Americans were turning toward more snacks due to increasingly busy schedules and lack of time to cook.

T. Hasegawa said this gives retailers an opportunity to market in both directions. “Brands can support snackers to take the concept of ‘girl dinner’ across dayparts through pairings, especially with better-for-you components that can balance consumer perceptions of both indulgence and satisfaction.

Keep an eye out for the latest data on foodservice and snacking from the NACS State of the Industry summit this week.

Read “We’re Here for the Snacks” from the September issue of NACS Magazine.