Spicy Snacks Are Getting Even Hotter

As consumer palates become more sophisticated and daring, the market grows for more interesting chips and popcorn.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Consumers increasingly like their snacks spicy. They're yearning for new snack flavors with hot, savory and authentic spices, like habanero or Korean barbecue in potato chips or jalapeno popcorn.

The $22.5-billion salty snacks market is enjoying a proliferation of snack flavors hitting the shelves, from Tom Yum soup on pretzels to more traditional sweet and salty combinations on potato and tortilla chips, according to recent snack data from Packaged Facts.

Michael Whiteman, a food forecaster who heads food consultancy Baum + Whiteman (www.baumwhiteman.com), sees popcorn trending in distinctive flavors, plus it's gluten-free and high in fiber. "Popcorn is the fastest growing snack in country," he recently told Cosmopolitan. "People are gravitating toward savory snacks rather than sweets."

WildRootsFoods LLC hopes to shake up the snack aisle with its Buck Wild (www.snackbuckwild.com) popcorn and tortilla chips made with whole grains. Born from the idea that snacks should be exciting, the flavor profiles include Korean BBQ, Jalapeño Jack, Roasted Tomato & Herb and new Chipotle Cheddar.

"It’s time to snack the path less ordinary," explains Emily Liu, Buck Wild's marketing director. "Americans are snacking more than ever, so our snacks need to rise to the occasion," she says. Millennials are actually snacking more than any other generation, she points out. "They're demanding more complex, bold and spicy profiles. We’re excited to give them a snack line tailor-made for their lifestyles."

Jennifer Saenz, vice president of marketing and innovation at PepsiCo's Frito-Lay Division (www.fritolay.com), predicted this year's potato chip flavor trends would accentuate the focus on spices, cheese and herbs, and she was right. Spices from around the world are very popular in snack flavors.

Tostitos JalepenosOnce exotic, spices with Indian and Japanese influences are cranking up the flavor in chips, pretzels, nuts and other salty snacks. In July, Frito-Lay announced four limited-edition international flavors of Lay's potato chips: Brazilian Picanha, Chinese Szechuan Chicken, Greek Tzatsiki and Indian Tikka Masala.

"Fans keep us on the pulse of flavor exploration," Saenz says. The Lay's Do Us A Flavor campaign, which invites the public to vote on new Lay's potato chip flavors and submit ideas for more in the coming year, shows consumers want to be surprised with new and unconventional flavors. This year's contest launched chip flavors such as Fiery Roasted Habanero and Korean Barbecue.

In time for football season, the company's Tostitos brand launched Hint of Jalapeno tortilla chips to spice up game day snacking. "We want to let the dip and chip combination be the hero, so look for ways to amplify the flavor of chip-dip pairings," explains Pat O'Toole, senior director of Tostitos marketing. "Consumers are passionate about a variety of spicy foods and toppings and international flavors. As people snack on more tortilla chips, they're starting to look for items that can enhance their experience."

TGIFridays Party BitesThe TGI Fridays brand, known for either its restaurants or its frozen appetizers, has been taken to the snack aisle by Inventure Foods Inc. (inventurefoods.com). Launched in October, Party Bites are ready-to-eat puffed, baked corn snacks inspired by the restaurant's zesty appetizers, such as sweet and hot Buffalo wings and its savory lunch/dinner Mac & Cheese.

Another spicy new entry, Oberto Beef Jerky's (www.oberto.com) new Oberto Trail Mix comes in Original Beef, Spicy Sweet Beef and Teriyaki Chicken flavors. Teaming tender beef jerky, premium nuts, seeds, fruit and dark chocolate, the snacks are now heading nationwide to select retailers. Oberto Brands says it developed the blends to satisfy hunger and deliver high protein without artificial ingredients.

It looks like salty snacks aren't going away any time soon. Packaged Facts finds 95 percent of American households stock up on them, and potato chips are still the most popular, found in 23.7 percent of U.S. homes. The firm's latest annual snack trends report reveals that ready-to-eat popcorn and caramel corn rank as second favorites, and alternative fruit and vegetable (non-potato) chips have been selling well since 2015. Popcorn and veggie or fruit chips fit in well with the "better-for-you snacking" trend, the report says, while also providing "a sense of indulgent satisfaction most snackers still crave."

These trends will remain crucial for marketers to embrace over the next five years, the report notes, as snacking occasions will push the salty snack market to at least $27 billion by 2020.