CHICAGO — As consumer trends evolve in the United States, so do the challenges of satisfying everyone’s snack cravings, according to the Future of Snacking 2024 report from The Hartman Group, Inc., Bellevue, Wash.

At a time when more than three-fourths of consumers are replacing meals with snacks, almost half of multi-person households coordinate their snack choices — different generations have distinct flavor preferences.

“As consumer behaviors continue to evolve, it’s crucial for brands to innovate and differentiate themselves in the competitive snack market,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, global executive vice president and chief adviser of consumer goods and foodservice insights, Circana, Chicago. “By understanding trends, such as the increasing demand for indulgent offerings as a temporary escape from daily stressors, the rise of snacking as a meal replacement due to busy lifestyles, the need for better-for-you snacks to assist with daily nutrition and the importance of on-the-go convenience, brands can effectively tailor their offerings to help consumers find the right balance and meet their evolving needs.

“Our ‘motivation segmentation’ shows that emotional macro need represents more than half of snacking and treating needs. Flavor and taste reign supreme in the snacking universe, with 83% of consumers reporting they choose snacks that have a flavor they prefer.”

Circana research showed that despite economic constraints, consumers remain loyal to familiar products. The finding emphasizes the need for connecting to the consumer, and flavor innovation can do that.


Bring on the heat

“Despite a strong demand for healthy snacks, there’s also growing backlash toward everything being touted as ‘better-for-you,’ especially classic snack foods,” said Shelley Balanko, senior vice president at The Hartman Group. “There is still plenty of room for pure pleasure snacks that deliver a delightful taste or texture experience while satisfying consumers’ desire for a treat.”

Flavor preferences are heating up, Balanko said, and brands are leaning in. Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, Inc., has re-launched its Flamin’ Hot portfolio of 25 snack products into an official brand. The revamped offerings come in new packaging that “play into the edgy attitudes that brand fans demonstrate on a daily basis,” according to the company.

The Flamin’ Hot flavor debuted in 1989, with Cheetos the first delivery vehicle for the spicy seasoning. The extension to other Frito-Lay formats was fueled by younger consumers’ growing interest in treats with heat.

“Spicy flavors are particularly relevant in the snacking category, where consumers show a clear desire for experiences that satisfy both comfort and adventure,” Balanko said. “The Flamin’ Hot brand extension underscores a crucial business principle: adaptability. Any trend can be lucrative for a period of time, but the difference between a flash in-the-pan and enduring success is continuing to evolve with the trend, all while remaining consumer-centric.

“Our research on snacking culture signals that consumers are looking beyond one-dimensional flavors for complex, layered taste profiles. Additionally, globally inspired flavors like the spices found in Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American foods have been gaining popularity for some time. Technology and global connectivity have enhanced culinary exploration, especially for younger consumers.”

The Hartman Group’s research shows 12% of Gen Z and 14% of millennials have purchased “global snacks” in the past three months (vs. 7% for Gen X and 4% for baby boomers). The shift toward adventurous flavors signifies a broader movement toward snacks that offer both taste innovation and cultural richness.

Sweet and spicy snacking — also known as “swicy” — continues to build momentum in the snack category. Kellanova, Chicago, has partnered with Mike’s Hot Honey, Brooklyn, NY, to offer a limited-edition swicy version of Club Crisps. With a buttery base, each crisp is flavored with Mike’s honey infused with chili peppers.

Kellanova’s Pringles brand also partnered with Minecraft to celebrate the game’s 15th anniversary. The new potato crisp flavor — Minecraft Spicy TNT — has a cheese base with lingering spicy notes.

The convenience store chain 7-Eleven Inc. also wants in on the swicy trend, launching the Mangonada Donut, which was inspired by the Mexican frozen drink of the same name. It’s a donut filled with a mixture of mango and chamoy and sprinkled with Tajin and sugar, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven said.


New sweet treats

While salty snacks are heating up, the sweet side of the snack food category is seeing less innovation with chocolate, a traditional flavor for the category. It’s not that consumers have lost interest in chocolate. The issue is a global cocoa bean shortage. Brands are using chocolate sparingly in new product innovation. Think chocolate chip rather than chocolate chocolate chip.

Instead, they are focusing on fruity and sweet nostalgic flavors. Banana, strawberry and blue are trending. Blue, as a flavor, leans toward cotton candy or birthday cake frosting, with or without some bubble gum or lollipop blueberry notes.

But just like heat is hot in salty snacks, it’s gaining traction in confectionery and baked sweet treats. Cinnamon is popular, and often marketed as churro, as is honey, with and without heat.

J&J Snack Foods, Pennsauken, NJ, is on top of many of these trends. Dippin’ Dots, for example, now offers Frozeti Dough, a flavor inspired by the brand’s mascot’s blue color. It tastes like a sugar cookie, with occasional dots of chocolate chip and chocolate sandwich. 

The company also is introducing Hola Churros, which are heat-and-eat frozen double-twisted cinnamon sugar pastry snacks. The brand has a new chocolate-filled bite-size format, too.

The Kit Kat brand from The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., is rolling out a chocolate-free wafer bar. The limited-edition pink lemonade flavor delivers taste experience hints of strawberry.

Frankford Candy, Philadelphia, checks several of the trend boxes in sweet-treat innovation. Recent rollouts include Baskin-Robbins mint chocolate chip. The ambient confection comes in a Baskin-Robbins-style ice cream pint container. It’s filled with bite-size, dark chocolate candy layered with chocolate chips and filled with mint flavored creme. There’s also Baskin-Robbins chocolate chip cookie dough, which is bite-size, dark chocolate candy layered with chocolate chips, cookie dough pieces and vanilla-flavored creme.


Extreme flavor innovation

Crossing lines in terms of flavor innovation, Frankford Candy also has a new Krabby Patties Secret Menu Challenge. It is an assorted box of all-white Krabby Patties featuring mystery flavors such as mustard, pickle, bacon, seaweed, green apple, cherry, original, grape, popcorn and blue raspberry.

Pickle flavor also is showing up on chips, popcorn and seeds. Pickle is part of a growing preference for fermented, sour-like flavors. Hormel Foods Corp, Austin, Minn., is on it with new Planters Salt & Vinegar Cashews.

Kellanova is offering Pringles Mingles Dill Pickle & Ranch. The crisps combine dill pickle flavor with buttermilk and ranch notes for a unique flavor.

Conagra Brands Inc., Chicago, is rolling out David Bigs Vlasic Spicy Dill Pickle sunflower seeds, a spicy twist on the brand’s popular Bigs Vlasic Dill Pickle offering. Conagra also is cranking up the heat with new Andy Capp’s Fire Fries, the brand’s hottest heat flavor ever. And tapping into the popularity of the sweet-heat flavor profile, Conagra now offers Slim Jim Monster Chile Limon, a beefy-meat stick with citrus kick.

Sour Patch Kids candies are giving a tangy kick to Oreo sandwich cookies from Mondelez International, Chicago. The cookies resemble a Golden Oreo but with colorful, sour inclusions.