Our taste buds are designed to sense a range of distinctive flavor categories, including bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami (savory). Each taste bud has many sensory cells that transfer taste information to nerve fibers, which then send signals to the brain.

What makes some flavors, like salty and sweet, more appealing than others, like bitter or sour? It may be linked to survival since undesirable flavors could indicate food that is spoiled or even poisonous.

However, there are other reasons why certain flavors are more appealing. For one thing, humans tend to associate flavors with emotions. Savory dishes, or those that typically feature more protein, are often associated with pleasant memories — i.e., the comforting element of comfort foods.

When it comes to salt, specifically, there’s more to the story. For starters, our bodies need salt to survive. Sodium is an electrolyte crucial to maintaining hydration, and when the body runs low, it can generate salt cravings.

In addition, consuming salt can stimulate the release of dopamine and feelings of pleasure. All these factors combined make a compelling case for why salty snacks have such enduring appeal.

Even so, food manufacturers often find themselves measuring a line between nostalgia and novelty to capitalize on trends and meet consumer demand. What’s happening in the current market, and how can you compete in the arena of salty snacks?

 

 Chips

In recent years, exotic and innovative flavors have dominated the chip market, with spicy profiles and Asian ingredients making waves. While that trend has not entirely died out, clever brands are finding ways to mix the familiar with the fantastical to create easier inroads for timid consumers.

Consider the recent collaboration between Doritos and Jack Link’s, resulting in products like Jack Link’s Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili and Flamin’ Hot beef jerky. Other brands are introducing comfort food flavors in chip form, such as BLT Sandwich Potato Chips (Lay’s) and Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup Curls (Herr’s). 

Don’t forget the surge in demand for hot honey products, spurring offerings like Pringles Hot Honey Crisps and Utz Mike’s Hot Honey Chips.

 

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 Pretzels

The market for soft pretzels seems to be on the rise, with a CAGR of nearly 3.7% predicted by 2027. Consumers are interested in both frozen and ambient products, with categories like twists, rolls, buns, and sticks dominating.

As for flavor profiles, both classic and innovative flavors are popular. Pretzels.com lists traditional flavors like honey butter, cinnamon sugar, and honey mustard among bestsellers, alongside more adventurous offerings like chipotle cheddar.

 

 Nuts

Salted nuts are often seen as a desirable alternative to chips, thanks to beneficial nutrients like healthy fats. 

Roasted nuts are currently gaining popularity, swapping out salt in favor of richer nut flavors, and trending flavors are leaning toward swicy (sweet and spicy) options like hot honey and mango habanero. An estimated 67% of consumers are reportedly reaching for roasted and flavored nuts.

 

 Healthy Options

Healthier snacks like baked chips that cut down on salt and fat remain popular, while alternative ingredients take off. Current offerings on store shelves include chips made from kale, cassava, and whole grains instead of potatoes.

Chickpea snacks are also on the rise, with Hippeas Chickpea Puffs delivering gluten-free and vegan snacking options. Biena Chickpea Snacks and Saffron Road Crunchy Chickpeas are other examples. Toasted nori (seaweed) is an alternative that feeds into both exotic cuisine and healthier snack trends.

 

Related: Snack Trends: Conscious Snacking & a Bit of Indulgence

 

Salty Snacks Aren’t Going Anywhere

For food manufacturers, the question isn’t whether to create salty snacks but how to approach the market effectively, capitalizing on current trends while still appealing to the comfort and nostalgia that drive snacking. 

Catering to evolving consumer demands requires innovative combinations of the familiar and burgeoning trends in form and flavor.

 

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