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How Food Trends Translate in the Chip Aisle
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How Food Trends Translate in the Chip Aisle

Every year, food critics weigh in on what they believe will be the next big flavor trends, but chances are pretty high that they’re not using science to make their predictions. In fact, it’s fairly safe to say that they don’t, because a look back at trends from the past five years highlights an array of failed predictions, such as roasted grapes, urban honey, chocolate covered insects and beer-wine hybrids. The upside for brands and retailers looking to spot the next big food trend is that they have something more than just a foodie’s gut to go on—something more scientific.

From a retail perspective, categories don’t get much bigger than salty snacks, which generated more than $27.5 billion in sales for the year ended Feb. 25, 2017. Given the depth of the category, we took food trends to the chip aisle, where innovations like southern biscuits and gravy flavored potato chips aren’t that unusual anymore. To see which flavors have the most appeal, we grouped 25 new flavors into global, non-traditional ingredients and “sweet heat” pairings—and then put them to the test. To gauge the potential of the 25 flavors, we conducted a study using Nielsen Quick Screen, which uses actual consumer opinion about needs, desire and product uniqueness to determine which ones have the most potential for further development.

In terms of uniqueness, the study found that jerky chips made from meat infused with global flavors topped the charts. Both lamb chips with feta and goat meat chips with curry ranked significantly higher than all other flavors in uniqueness, but they didn’t score as well in terms of need and desire, suggesting that the average consumer may not be running to the store for these flavors. Expect to see more experimentation in the jerky chip sub-category, particularly as meat snacks are demonstrating notable sales growth.

The study also found that non-traditional ingredients are popular with consumers, as cauliflower, avocado with black beans and coconut chips scored in the top 10. These flavors and ingredients are trending in other categories and can be replicated in the chip snacking environment. They also put a more health conscious twist on the traditional potato chip and scored well on both uniqueness and consumer need.

Ideas with traditional flavors that scored well incorporated unlikely pairings. Chicken jerky chips with BBQ seasoning and the “sweet heat” idea of brown sugar and spicy BBQ incorporated new twists on familiar flavors, and both scored well, ranking in the top five.

What didn’t do well? Global, Asian-inspired flavors tended to score below average. Edamame, inari and kimchi ranked at the bottom of the list, indicating either a lack of familiarity with the flavors or disinterest in comparison to the other options.

The results of the recent study highlight that in the chip aisle, familiar flavors with new twists outperformed the truly unique. Brands should think about their innovation goals when analyzing these results. For example, pita salsa might not be viewed as a groundbreaking chip idea, but the study results suggest a very strong need/desire among consumers. As a more common flavor, pita salsa could also be quicker to produce and bring to market than an idea with a higher uniqueness score.