Rice crackers and cakes is still a dynamic sector but is losing sales to more traditional low-fat snacks

Rice snacks, including rice cakes and rice crackers, were the big thing last year and the sector is still dynamic in terms of new product development and advertising as it continues to meet consumer demand for low-fat snack choices.
However, as this relatively young sector has started to mature, growth has started to decline as consumers switch back to more traditional products. And, according to some, the sector is suffering from lack of shelf space.
Tracy Hughes, trade marketing controller for Blue Dragon, which entered the fray with Rice Bites in November, says: “We have seen growth slow significantly during the latest MAT versus the previous year, as consumer penetration
has started to stabilise and those buying into the category switch between brands and new products.”
Sales of rice cakes, valued at £58.4m, have declined 4.5% year-on-year compared with a 7% value growth the previous year [ACNielsen Scantrack February 19, 2005].
Meanwhile, rice crackers, a market worth £14.4m, declined by 1.7% year-on-year after 14% value growth the previous year.
But, according to Hughes, rice cakes and crackers still have lots to offer, with a little help from retailers.
“These sub-categories have lots more potential, but to some extent this is being restricted by shelf space,” she says.
“Retailers have a decision to make as to which categories to squeeze to provide more space for rice snacks; perhaps mainstream crisps or biscuits,
where rice snacks are currently situated.”
Recent big entries to the category include rice crackers under United Biscuits’ better-for-you Go Ahead! banner and Jacob’s Thai Bites Fusions. Jacob’s hopes the sub-brand will help double the value of its Thai Bites brand within two years.
Following the successful launch of its rice snacks, Blue Dragon is also adding to its portfolio with a 25g lunchbox bag. The crackers come in three flavours - Oriental Soy, Teriyaki and Sweet Chilli.
Anytime Food & Drink launched Weight Watchers Rice Sticks in 2003 in response to growing demand for healthier snacks. Originally in three flavours, Salt & Vinegar, Thai Sweet Chilli and Mediterranean Tomato, the company added Mature Cheese & Red Onion to the range last November.
“The success of Weight Watchers Rice Sticks is testament to the fact that taste is a key driver in the low-fat snacks market,” says Anytime chief executive Chris Banks.
The company is also about to add a new snack under the Weight Watchers brand. In July it is launching Corn Bites in two flavours - Aromatic Lemongrass with Lime and Spicy Mexican - which contain less than 3% fat.
Own-label forays into the category, however, have so far been minimal. “At the moment there is no real need for own-label ranges as the current portfolio of brands is meeting consumer needs,” says Hughes.