COVID-19 has catalyzed increased demand for snacks as producers position themselves for growth.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh, Group Editorial Director Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery
In early 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis began to ripple through our global society, we largely retreated to our homes—and began snacking. We appreciated the convenience so many snack foods bring, a boon in a world grown exponentially more complex. We sought comfort in timeless products that maintain strong emotional connections for us.
Now that summer has arrived and we’re tentatively emerging from our COVID-19 cocoons, we’re ready to start moving. Thankfully, the diverse range of better-for-you snacks on the market—many in highly convenient formats—are ready to sustain us as we stride into activity again.
Such is the welcoming scope of today’s snack industry, with diversity to remain relevant for of all occasions, and a strident desire to meet the ongoing and emerging needs of a changing population—even through the course of a pandemic.
Throughout 2019, there were several trends that drove success across the snack industry, says Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, IRI, Chicago, one of the keynote speakers for the upcoming 2020 SF&WB “State of the Industry: Snack & Baking” webinar (taking place August 18 at 2 PM Eastern; see www.snackandbakery.com/webinars for details and to register).
Lyons Wyatt dubs the first trend “ingredient phenomenon: snacking with well-being benefits,” tapping directly into “better-foryou” product development. “Getting nutrients from snacks continues to be important to the majority of consumers,” she says, noting that 54 percent of consumers want snacks that contain vitamins and minerals. “In addition, functional benefits are relevant for some consumers.” She says digestion is one focus area, with snacks making prebiotic/probiotic claims up 16 percent. “Another example is collagen.” She says that the multiple benefits collagen can offer drove 46 percent growth in dollar sales for collagen snack products. Protein also still sells, with snacks that state the amount of protein in the product up 6.8 percent. CBD snacks are exploding across forms and channels.
“Diet frenzy: options for those looking” is the second trend identified by Lyons Wyatt. “There are some consumers who look for snacks aligned to their diet preferences.” She notes that IRI has the ability to view products with ingredients that line up with different diets by working with one of its partners, Label Insights. The data show that kosher is up 0.8 percent vs. a year ago, Atkins diet 40 (which allows for 40 grams of net carbs per day) up 1.3 percent, and a low-sugar diet up 2.3 percent. Also, plant-based claims drove 15.2 percent dollar growth.
Even before COVID-19 upended retail markets, e-commerce was expanding in step with other channels. “Dynamic omnichannel: delivering variety to consumers” is the third key trend from Lyons Wyatt. “All channels drove dollar growth in 2019. In addition, with the expansion of ‘click and collect’ across various brick-and-mortar retailers, snacking realized a 53 percent growth within B&M Multi-Category E-Commerce (Delivery plus Click & Collect). These two different facts illustrate that consumers buy snacks, planned or unplanned, based on where they are, what they are doing, time of day, and the amount of money they want to pay,” she says.
Finally, “innovating with balanced choices” is driving snacks. “Innovation is a constant growth engine for snacks,” says Lyons Wyatt. “In 2019, we found innovations spanning many themes.” She notes that examples of industry innovation include refrigerated snack kits, probiotic and generally better-for-you bars, cookie innovations that offer consumers multiple benefits including prebiotics. “Treat themes included shareables and cereal crossovers,” she says.
COVID-19 has significantly altered the course of the past few months—but the industry has responded with agility. “As an association that is deeply committed to serving as a vital resource for its member companies, SNAC International hasn’t missed a beat during the pandemic, despite having to retool most of its major initiatives,” says Elizabeth Avery, president and CEO, SNAC International, Arlington, VA, who will also present during the 2020 SF&WB “State of the Industry: Snack & Baking” webinar. “SNAXPO, planned for late March in Charlotte was rescheduled to March 28–30, 2021, but high-value content that would have been provided there was instead brought to members online, including the annual unveiling of IRI’s ‘State of the Snack Industry’ by Sally Lyons Wyatt.”
SNAC further invested in IRI data to track the impact of the pandemic on snack categories and package architecture, notes Avery. “Continuing its commitment to fostering growth opportunities for WinS (Women in Snacks), SNAC transformed a session planned for SNAXPO into a virtual conversation with Ellen Taaffe, director, Women’s Leadership Programs, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, who gave practical tips on how women can overcome self-doubt and years of social conditioning. That conversation was followed with the launch of a summer-long series of podcast interviews with snack executives committed to championing women in the workplace.”
Avery notes that SNAC will unveil a new online “Sales & Marketing” short course, created for SNAC by the Kellogg School of Management, this summer, while the top-rated Emerging Leaders Program at Georgetown University was rescheduled to the fall.
“Most importantly, SNAC’s advocacy work has been in overdrive, first by ensuring that snacks, as part of the broader food industry, are officially designated critical infrastructure and, as such, not only allowed to operate, but given priority consideration, after healthcare, for necessary personal protective equipment,” says Avery. “Throughout the pandemic, SNAC served as a critical intermediary communicating the industry’s needs with the administration and sharing constantly evolving guidance from government agencies with its members.”
Additionally, in order to give voice to its members, SNAC transitioned its annual June “Day in D.C.” to a month-long legislative summit, “Unpacked and Online,” scheduling online video conference calls for members of Congress to visit with snack constituents, and for the organization’s leadership to continue to enjoy high-value networking and education via roundtable discussions. “Legislative priorities include obtaining targeted, temporary, liability protection for critical industries and payroll tax relief for front-line food and agriculture industry workers who have made tremendous personal sacrifices to ensure Americans have access to the products they know and love.”
2020 has reinforced the strong demand for snacks that fit evolving nutritional desires. “COVID-19 is driving a few trends,” says Lyons Wyatt. The largest trend is the intensification of “holistic health and well-being,” she says, noting that consumers will continue to look for snacks with functional benefits. She also notes that the experiential nature of a snack will remain relevant. “With so many activities postponed or not available, consumers turn to other options to provide joy and entertainment,” she says. “This can be done via packaging, virtual reality, and/or online. Infused snacks will go beyond CBD and may include essential oils.”
COVID-19 has catalyzed pockets of strong growth. “Many snack categories are realizing unprecedented growth,” says Lyons Wyatt. Top-ranked items that have seen significant growth during COVID-19 include crackers and cookies, and the popcorn segment is seeing a jump.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we saw an immediate surge in demand for Campbell Snacks, including our Cape Cod, Kettle Brand, Snyder’s of Hanover, and Pretzel Crisps brands, as well as Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Milano, and Farmhouse,” says Michelle Reardon, vice president, communications, Campbell Snacks, Camden, NJ, and a SNAC International Board of Directors member. “A recent study conducted by C Space shows 90 percent of consumers surveyed say eating their favorite snack makes them feel normal and reminds them of the good times. We know this is true.”
In order to meet this demand, the top priority at Campbell Snacks since the earliest days of the pandemic has been keeping the front-line teams safe, says Reardon. “From manufacturing to warehousing to the distributors and in-store sales teams, we are working to keep these teams safe. We are protecting our employees through daily health assessments, quarantines, and enhanced cleaning procedures at our facilities. We have stepped up to support our teams and their families during this challenging time.” Campbell Snacks is also hiring across the U.S. to meet this increased demand.
“We’re also helping our hometown communities with contributions of over $5 million in cash and food to organizations across North America,” says Reardon. “Through this commitment, we can provide direct financial support to local food banks, pantries, or community organizations.”
The snack industry, like everyone in the food industry, has had to step up in many ways, says Justin Spannuth, vice president and COO, Unique Pretzel Bakery, Reading, PA, and a SNAC International Board of Directors member. “The positive light is we have all seen an increase in business. Fulfilling that increase is where the challenge lies,” he says. “There was a sales channel shift, where product demand was creating inventory and projection issues, some items surged, and some came to a screeching halt. Online saw an instant uptick.”
Employee health was a major concern, says Spannuth. “Implementing new policies and procedures near daily for weeks was not only taxing to implement, but difficult to regulate. We were fortunate our employees met the need without resistance.”
Employee morale and curbing fear may posed significant challenges, says Spannuth. “We needed to show our employees how much we cared about them, showing them that what they are doing is a small part of a huge social responsibility. If grocery store shelves went empty, there would be much larger issues than the virus. Starving people creates chaos.” He notes that Unique Pretzel Bakery tried to show support for employees in several ways. This included giving hourly employees a $2 per hour raise to show gratitude for coming to work, and giving meal kits to all employees to provide a needed meal at a time when groceries stores were running out of essential items. “We provided everyone with an essentials box that had paper goods and cleaners that were hard to find.”
Unique Pretzel Bakery hired temporary employees to assist with product repacking for the sales channel shift, and to sanitize all shared surfaces around the clock, says Spannuth. They also did not penalize employees who had to stay home for any of the multiple reasons that arose.
“Business fears kept us awake at night prior to every day’s sprint, making us worn-down and tired,” says Spannuth. This included issues related to liability, employee relations, a crumbling supply chain, and Paycheck Protection Program funds. “We are fortunate to have great industry leaders in SNAC to make our voices heard.”
Sometimes, the most-important takeaway from a crisis is learning what to take forward, says Rob Sarlls, CEO, Wyandot, Marion, OH, and chairman of the Board of Directors for SNAC International. “The COVID-19 situation reminds us every day how important it is to continuously prepare for, and deal with, the unexpected— whatever it may be.” In this case, it also means recommitting each day to the two basic principles that guide Wyandot’s efforts: providing a safe and healthy work environment, and being a leader in the community.
“Wyandot seeks to comply with ever-changing federal, state, and local regulatory guidelines and mandates,” says Sarlls. “We communicate information openly and frequently with all teammates, ensuring everyone understands we will succeed or fail together with their individual behaviors, not only in the plant, but outside in the broader community. This makes the rituals of maintaining proper protective clothing and social distancing rules easier to perform. We take employees’ temperatures and ask health check questions every day, including talking with them about possible home and community contact issues, and enforce quarantine protocols when required. We provide free initial access to telemedicine, and also provide critical access to mental health professionals given the stressful environment in which we find ourselves.”
In stressful times such as these, boosting morale and acknowledging a commitment to feeding people—and taking care of our customers—is more important than simply maintaining production, says Sarlls. Wyandot, for nearly two months during the depths of the lockdown, provided weekly recognition bonuses for completing 40-hour workweeks, and also gave away gift cards to support local businesses.
“This leads to the second principle: be a leader within our community,” says Sarlls. “We want to demonstrate to our teammates and to our local community that we’re here to help as much as we can. Since mid-March we have donated more than 60,000 pounds of food to first responders, schools, and other organizations in our broader community of Marion, OH. Local businesses are on the receiving end of the many gift cards we distribute to our employees. It’s a win-win-win. Local businesses need every penny to last through this downturn and hopefully come out on the other side. At the same time, the gift cards created a bit of extra fun for our teammates while encouraging them to help support local businesses.”
Wyandot has also made significant donations to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and the Ohio Restaurant Association’s Employee Relief Fund, says Sarlls. “As a Certified B Corporation, we have identified ending hunger as our guiding corporate commitment. Now more than ever, the support of food banks is critical to take care of individuals and families hurt by the economic downturn. Foodservice workers have been particularly hard-hit with the shutdown of restaurants. Wyandot gave to the fund that provides emergency cash to those laid off in the space.”
The snack industry continues to meet America’s needs—often in multiple meaningful ways—even when unprecedented challenges arise. Together, we will endure.
“State of the Industry 2020: Meeting snack market demands” originally appeared in the July 2020 “State of the Industry: Snacks” issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery