Small meals, snacking driving growth of U.S. cracker market


The U.S. market for crackers exceeded $7 billion in 2013, and growth drivers in the category are fundamentally the same as those sparking growth in the markets for healthful-ingredient snacks and salty snacks, according to a new report from the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based Chief among these drivers is Americans’ continued shift toward eating several small meals a day and snacking between meals.

The report, “Crackers: U.S. Market Trends,” says increased snacking throughout the day represents a permanent change in the eating habits of U.S. consumers, and that Americans will increasingly turn to snacks to satisfy their needs and cravings. Since 2004, the number of consumers categorized as “healthy snackers” has grown from 29 million to 41 million — or from 14 to 18 percent of the population.

Healthy snackers form the core of a crucial consumer segment that is driven by health and wellness concerns and drawn to snacks derived from healthful ingredients such as vegetables, legumes, high-protein foods and ancient grains. As marketers of crackers launch more healthful-ingredient crackers to meet the needs of healthful snackers, the market will grow accordingly, said David Sprinkle, publisher, Packaged Facts.

As in the case of healthful-ingredient snacks and salty snacks, many successful marketers of crackers are small family-owned companies bringing creatively fashioned, healthful-ingredient crackers to the marketplace. These smaller marketers develop strong ties with their customers by providing authentic artisanal products for health-conscious consumers. They often set the tone for what consumers expect from the crackers they buy in their supermarkets and grocery stores and, in doing so, raise the bar for the major marketers controlling the lion’s share of the market in dollar terms. The report says it expects this phenomenon to generate growth in the market for crackers, as it has in other segments of the snacks market.

Store brands do matter

But retailers also are key players in this category with their store brand products. According to the report, the number of households purchasing store brand crackers most often grew 33 percent between 2004 and 2013 — a growth rate significantly higher than that experienced by major brands of crackers. Private brands garnered significant mass-market share in the traditional categories of saltines (30 percent), crackers (24 percent) and breadsticks (25 percent).

However, store brands succeeded in gaining only a miniscule market share in the cracker subcategories in which most of the innovation is occurring, the report says. They achieved only 4 percent of dollar sales for “all other crackers,” and 8 percent of the market for crackers with fillings. Opportunities, therefore, exist for store brands to extend their reach in these cracker categories.

“It’s evident that consumers trust the quality of store brand cracker products; now it’s just a matter of store brands broadening their variety of cracker products they have available to consumers, especially if they can use ingredients and flavor combinations to innovate and provide interesting twists on cracker products that differentiate them from national brands,” the report says.

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