Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Product Trends Memo: Less is More: Salt & Pepper-Flavored Ready-to-Eat Snacks One of the Hottest New Product Trends in the Snack Foods Category

Sometimes the simple and minimal makes the most since when creating a new food product.

Such is the case with one of the hottest two-ingredient combinations -- salt and pepper --currently being used by numerous snack food product manufacturers in a variety of new ready-to-eat snack products hitting the market in the U.S.

Those simple two ingredients also just happen to be two seasonings no self-respecting chef or cook would even think about not including in the majority of dishes he or she prepares.

Salt (usually sea salt) and pepper (mostly black so far) are becoming all the rage as the primary two flavors in a variety of new snack food products hitting U.S. supermarkets, natural foods stores and retail formats.

For example, natural snack maker Kettle Foods was one of the first manufacturers to introduce a salt and pepper line of potato chips with its "Kettle Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper Crinkle Cut Potato Chips," which is proving to be a strong seller.

Newman's Own Organics also is one of the early players in the salt and pepper variety snack trend, with its "Newman's Own Salt and Pepper Pretzel Rounds."

Numerous other potato chip brands are now introducing salt and pepper varieties as well. These include "Tyrrell's Sea Salt and Black Pepper Potato Chips" and the Popchips brand's new salt and pepper variety of potato chips.

Tyrrell's salt and pepper chips are thicker cut and have a crisp texture to them, with a balance of salt and pepper taste.

On the other hand, Popchips' brand salt and pepper chips are lighter and airier, along with having a slightly more pronounced pepper taste to them. Both brands use balck pepper in them.

Specialty grocery chain Trader Joe's also recently introduced its own line of salt and pepper potato chips under its Trader Joe's store brand. When the 312-store specialty grocery chain introduces a new flavor combination under one of it's own store brands, that's usually a good sign a new food product trend is blooming, in this particular case in the ready-to-eat snack food category.

Discount store chain Target also recently introduced a new line of salt and pepper snack chips under its Archer Farms store brand and is placing it in all of its Target discount stores and Super Target combination grocery and general merchandise Supercenters in the U.S.

It's not just various brands of potato chips and pretzels that are being introduced featuring salt and pepper as their primary taste profile though. Nut snack product marketer Diamond Foods has recently introduced "Sea Salt and Pepper Cashews" under its popular Emerald brand. The snack food company says it likely will soon be introducing other nut varieties seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

It's interesting that when it comes to ready-to-eat snacks like potato chips, pretzels and nuts it seems like nearly every flavor combination has previously been introduced -- ranging from lime, barbeque and mesquite flavors to ranch dressing and even wasabi-flavored. However, sometimes the simplest ingredients like salt and pepper -- those common flavor profiles staring product developers right in the eyes -- are those not thought of until later on in the product development process.

We think simple and basic flavor profiles like salt and pepper fit in with the times. In bad economic times like the present, consumers tend to behave in more minimalistic ways -- less excess and the like -- both out of economic need as well as based on psychological motivations.

Often consumer food preferences in such times also trend more towards the minimal. There's just something about buying and eating a Wasabi and green-chili and lime potato chip that feels a bit over the top when the credit card is maxed out, the job is on the ropes, it's becoming increasingly difficult to pay the utility bill, food costs are soaring, and you just found out little Suzi (or maybe Bristol these days) needs braces and the company dental plan doesn't pay for them.

Minimalistic snacks like salt and pepper chips or nuts fit the more basic mindset, as do comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and meatloaf and traditional snacks like chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

Also, less can often be more -- often the more simple and minimal ingredient profiles end up tasting the best in foods.

We expect to see many more snack manufacturers introduce salt and pepper varieties of chips, pretzels, nuts and other ready-to-eat snack products, both in conventional and natural, organic and gourmet varieties.

Further, we expect to see specialty snack marketers introduce new ready-to-eat salt and pepper variety snack items using more exotic and gourmet varieties of sea salts combined with pepper (along with using different pepper varieties like red pepper and chipotle), since sea salt happens to be an exploding specialty seasoning category on its own.

Lastly, we're also betting on soon seeing a three-ingredient combination develop in the salt and pepper flavor profile. For example, a combination of sea salt, black pepper and garlic for potato chips and other ready-to-eat snack products. Or sea salt, black pepper and lime, along with other three-ingredient combinations.

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