Bagged snacks have bounced back and once again experienced growth, helped considerably by the variety of better-for-you options now available.Growth at the premium end has also boosted sales.

The total market for crisps, savoury snacks and nuts clocked up sales of £1.83bn in the past year - a 2.1% increase compared with a slight overall drop the previous year.

Some of the growth is down to the big players busily improving the nutritional content of many of their existing offerings, in response to the continuing challenge of supplying demand for healthier products.

However, the market has seen some high-profile marketing campaigns and, even though most NPD has been aimed towards the health sector, new restrictions on advertising foods high in fat, sugar and salt could mean a challenge for brand owners, not only to support their brands in the future but to bring new lines to market.

The top three names, Walkers, Pringles and McCoy's, have been digging particularly deeply into marketing pockets to turn around last year's less than impressive sales.

Walkers Crisps kicked off the year by undergoing its most radical transformation yet to lure back consumers put off by the unhealthy image of snack products. Changes included reducing levels of saturated fat and salt, switching to sunseed oil, adding new flavours and packaging, then flagging up the changes with a £20m advertising campaign.

The investment was one of the biggest by any grocery brand this year and, looking at the sales figures, it appears to have paid off. Sales of the standard crisps jumped 3.7%, reversing the previous year's decline.

Walkers also launched Baked, which reached shops in September. Aimed particularly at men who want to take care of their health but don't like the idea of diet lines, these are made from potato flakes instead of the usual slices, baked rather than fried, and have 70% less fat than regular Walkers crisps.

Pringles continues to occupy the second spot with sales worth £140.5m, a 15.9% increase over last year. Owner Procter & Gamble also jumped on the health bandwagon, slashing the saturated fat content of the brand by a third and backing the move with a £1.8m advertising push.

Pringles' new recipe uses a different vegetable oil blend, claims to make the products melt quicker on the tongue, and promises to be 25% crunchier. The changes led to claims that there were now fewer crisps in a Pringles tube, a challenge that P&G countered with the fact that, despite the improvements, the price remained the same. The brand also moved upmarket as gourmet flavours joined the line-up. The move built on the introduction of the light aromas collection at the start of the year.

Ranked third among bagged snacks bestsellers, UBUK's £84m McCoy's brand bucked the trend towards healthier products, jumping 8.2%. It owed a lot of its growth to tortilla brand extensions, launched in February, which reinforced the brand's blokey image and targeted new sharing opportunities.

One of the big stories of the year was the demise of iconic brand Golden Wonder, parts of which were scooped up by UBUK, which took Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies, and Northern Ireland's Tayto, which took on the own-label business.

UBUK has been quick to make the most of its newly acquired brands. In September it aligned Wheat Crunchies and Nik Naks with its existing Discos and Skips lines for a four-pronged assault on the snacks sector. The activity included a relaunch of both former Golden Wonder brands with reformulated recipes containing half the fat and up to 30% less sodium, as well as no artificial sweeteners, all flagged up on the pack.

In the premium arena, the Walkers Sensations brand continued its downward trend, falling 8.8% to £78.5m. The figures will be a blow to Walkers - it splashed out £2.5m on revamping the brand. Changes included new packaging and reformulated flavours with infused oils and natural ingredients.

Besides P&G Pringles, other upmarket brands benefited from the public's appetite for premium offerings. Kettle Chips managed to turn around last year's disappointing, if slight, decline. With sales up 32.1% to £43.4m, it moved up to ninth place.

While crisps and savoury snacks may lead the bagged category in terms of sales, health credentials are on the side of nuts - the smallest sector, but one that showed double digit year-on-year growth as more people bought into the sector more often and at a higher average price.

UBUK repackaged its KP brand, introduced multipacks with a smaller portion size better suited to lunchboxes, and extended the offer to include premium nut selections.

Meanwhile, Walkers geared up for the festive season with mixes and big flavours for its bloke-oriented Nobby's Nuts line-up, including Asian Combo and spicy cashew nut mixes, while sweet chilli and smokey bacon flavours joined the ranks of the big bag.

When it comes to the total bagged snacks market, branded is light years ahead of own-label rivals. However, while own labels only account for £371.7m, this sector performed on a par with branded, up 2%.n