PepsiCo is bringing a taste of the Orient to the UK with a new range of Japanese rice crackers.

The Sakata Rice Crackers brand, worth almost £33m in Australia, has hit UK shelves for the first time in a trial at Waitrose. The four-strong range (£1.99/100g) comes in Sour Cream & Chive, Classic Cheddar, Sizzling Barbecue and Plain ­flavours and each oven-baked cracker contains nine calories or fewer. The crackers will also be trialled by Ocado from later this month with a view to rolling the brand out to other multiples early next year.

PepsiCo believes the range has the potential to hit UK sales of £35m in the next five years. "This is something new for the ­savoury biscuits category," claimed marketing manager Annika Meeks. "A lot of products on the market are bread replacements or meal accompaniments, but Sakata offers a new eating occasion for sharing or if a consumer is feeling peckish between meals."

The crackers were naturally gluten-free and would be attractive to consumers who followed a gluten-free diet as a lifestyle choice, she added. Marketing activity for the brand will kick off later this year with sampling at Waitrose stores across the country.

Sakata launched in Australia in 1994 and is now worth £32.6m there. It is the country's leading rice cracker brand, accounting for more than 50% of the market [Nielsen 52w/e 27 June 2010].

Consumers had an appetite for Asian cuisine and snacks, and Japanese food had become synonymous with healthy eating, said Pete Dewar, founding partner of branding agency The Clearing. "Launching with Waitrose and Ocado is a smart move as they sit at the premium end of the market," he added. "Their customers are older and more discerning and have more disposable income to pay for a healthier snack."

This May, restaurant brand Itsu expanded into retail with a range of Asian snacks that included three Itsu-branded rice cakes, along with chocolate edamame, wasabi peas and a yoghurt cranberry mix.