The human brain is hard-wired to crave salt, which is essential to our survival. It helps the body bind water to balance fluids and hydration and maintain healthy blood pressure and muscle and nerve function.

That being the case, it should come as no surprise that we find salt more than a little addictive. When it comes to savory snacks, however, salt isn’t the be-all and end-all. With more people looking to curb excessive sodium consumption and find bites on the healthier side, the snack game is changing.

The comfort aspect of salty and savory snacks remains important, but these days, consumers want to balance that desire against nutritional elements that add value. Companies looking to capitalize on changing trends in snacking are turning to flavor innovation and, in some cases, even crowdsourcing new flavor ideas. Where are savory snacking trends today, and where are they heading?

Great Taste, Less Salt

There’s no shortage of challenges to address regarding heart disease, from diets high in fat and sugar to sedentary lifestyles. Excessive sodium can contribute to health issues like hypertension (high blood pressure), leading to heart attack or stroke. And according to the CDC, 47% of adults in the U.S. suffer from hypertension.

As a result, many consumers are curbing sodium intake, either as a response to hypertension or a preventative measure. Snacks like salty potato chips are certainly enough to make the mouth water (as Lay’s states, no one can eat just one). However, emerging savory trends are ditching salt in favor of other flavors.

Walk down the chip aisle in the grocery store, and you’ll encounter a slew of savory swaps. In addition to salty takes like sea salt and vinegar or salt and fresh ground pepper, Kettle Brand goes next level with parmesan garlic, pepperoncini, honey-dijon, and apple cider vinegar.

Also available are innovative bases like seaweed, coconut, pea protein, and even carrots and zucchini that may be seasoned as-is or broken down and reconstituted as crackers in a range of flavor profiles. For consumers looking to cut down on sodium intake, savory new options make it not only possible but incredibly enjoyable.

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Calories vs. Satisfaction

COVID-19 restrictions prompted a couple of emerging trends. First, people stuck at home started to snack a lot more. The market for salty and savory snacks saw a boost of nearly 10% in 2020. With high stress and the fridge and pantry nearby for new remote workers, this course was predictable.

Of course, disruption of the supply chain left many consumers unable to get some of their favorite products. Over time, the COVID 15 (the pandemic weight gain phenomenon) set in for many. Both events changed how people approached snacking. While the comfort and convenience of snacking are still major draws, modern consumers also want health-conscious snacks.

New Takes on Old Favorites

With healthier products dominating during the COVID pandemic, old standbys like Lay’s and Pringles have had to rethink their strategies. Several companies found ways to make old comfort classics new again. Lay’s went with a lineup of flavor swap options, using flavors from Doritos and Funyons on Lay’s chips.

Pringles released a mash-up of the most popular flavors with Scorchin’ Sour Cream and Onion chips and even teamed up with Wendy’s on a spicy fried chicken chip. Herr’s went with a Flavor Mix Mystery, challenging consumers to determine which three classic flavors blended to create the mystery snack.

Crowdsourcing Flavor Ideas

Savvy brands have come up with new techniques to engage their customers, and snack companies are no exception. The Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” campaign, which launched in 2012 and asked fans to submit flavor ideas, remains the company’s most successful marketing campaign. They fielded nearly 4 million submissions, product sales increased 12% that year, mentions of Lay’s went up 4,700%, and the famous potato chip brand gathered invaluable consumer insights.

Needless to say, this served as a model to other brands interested in going straight to consumers to find out what flavors tickled their fancy. Both PepsiCo and Oreo (among others) have had similar campaigns. With plenty of people interested in finding snacks that are not only tasty and filling but capable of scratching the snacking itch in healthier ways, brands that want to compete are listening closely and developing innovative new products.

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