Crackers: A back-to-the-future frontier for food marketers

Crackers: A back-to-the-future frontier for food marketers

In the world of snacks, crackers are fast becoming the next big thing for snackers and the final frontier for food marketers.  As harried, on-the-go Americans increasingly turn to snacks to satisfy their cravings and replace sit-down meals, they are discovering that crackers can offer an exciting and healthy alternative to traditional salty snacks such as chips, popcorn and pretzels.  In a virtuous circle that promises to provide a significant boost to the market for crackers, major marketers in turn have begun to roll out an ever-expanding line of innovative products to meet the challenge created by soft sales and slow growth in product segments such as potato chips and cheese snacks.

Staid and boring crackers are being transformed into worthy competitors of salty snacks and other snacking alternatives as major marketers work to update some of their traditional brands and cracker platforms.  For example, MondelÄ“z International, Inc. has made a significant effort to overhaul some of its most venerable Nabisco brand products such as Ritz, Triscuits and Graham Crackers.  At the same time, smaller marketers of crackers are carving out space and grabbing market share by offering creative, artisanal products that satisfy their customers’ needs for authenticity in the food they eat.  As this process unfolds, the traditionally placid market for crackers is turning upside down.

As highlighted by a January 2014 Packaged Facts report entitled Crackers: U.S. Market Trends, the new breed of crackers that is filling more and more shelves in grocery stores and supermarkets bears little resemblance to the Ritz crackers Mom ate with peanut butter and has no genetic ties to the Saltines Grandma ate with her soup.  Today’s crackers set out to assuage the perpetual quest of serious snackers for explosive crunches and wild and crazy flavors right out of the box.  Here are just a few of the cracker flavors launched by food marketers in 2013:  Red Bean with Roasted Red Pepper, Sweet Potato with Roasted Sweet Onion, Zesty Salsa, Spicy Buffalo, Chipotle Cheddar, Queso Fundido, Chili Lime, Hot ‘n Spicy Jalapeño, Roasted Garlic & Rosemary, Olive Oil & Sea Salt and Asiago Cheese.

As marketers dream up new ways to transform crackers into snacks, they are blurring the boundaries between crackers, crisps and chips.  Besides positioning crackers as a stand-alone snack fit for eating right out of the box just like other snacks, marketers are moving in the direction of offering crackers that serve as mini-meals for consumers who are too busy to sit down and eat a regular meal.  For example, consumers looking for lunch on-the-go can pick up a “tapaz2go” marketed by Mediterranean Snack Food Company, based in Boonton, New Jersey.  This is a gluten-free mini-meal that combines a single serve pouch of Mediterranean Snacks Lentil Crackers with a container of hummus in a portable package.  For dessert, how about a Nutella & Go! from Ferrero USA, an on-the-go snack that packages breadsticks with Nutella hazelnut spread?

Yet, although the market for crackers is being transformed by rapid innovation and new competitors, plain, old-fashioned crackers are still to be found in the pantries of consumers.  Given the comfort that traditional types of foods can offer consumers trying to survive in today’s hectic world, perhaps it should not come as a complete surprise that 40% of households still use saltines and 23% continue to use graham crackers. 

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