Analysis by Janet Kelly While research shows that shoppers have got the munchies for crisps, nuts and snacks, it also demonstrates that these consumers are a promiscuous bunch, who'll graze the fixtures for the best deals out. According to a year long consumer study recently completed by Golden Wonder, heavyweight trade and consumer marketing activity, together with product development, has fuelled activity in the rapidly changing bagged nibbles market. Golden Wonder invested in its biggest ever survey to determine exactly what motivates shoppers to buy crisps and snacks and the results make interesting reading, according to category marketing controller Dawn Romans. "Market data is obviously important as it allows manufacturers and retailers to track what's happening in the market, but it doesn't automatically tell us why. "If retailers are to make the most of this category, they need to understand exactly what makes consumers tick, both in relation to the products they buy and the environment in which those products are sold." Golden Wonder's research used the latest in hand held technology to conduct detailed audits in convenience stores, forecourts and cash and carry outlets throughout the UK. Attention was focused on analysing range and space allocation, brand rate of sale and profitability. Store visits were also used to analyse shop layouts, display systems and the impact on consumers of promotional offers. A number of consumer focus groups were held to determine customers' views on the bagged snacks category and to analyse how they shop the fixture. Key findings showed that flavour is the major consideration for crisp buyers, while snackers look for novelty and innovation, but promotions impact heavily on both. The study revealed that consumers thought too much space is given to confectionery at the expense of bagged snacks and they wanted crisps and snacks to be sited to the front of the store, near the till. They also wanted bagged snacks displayed alongside complementary products, such as soft drinks, confectionery and sandwiches. Shoppers added that stores should concentrate more on selling standard single packs, extending to bigger bags and multipacks only where space allows. They wanted crisps blocked by brand, but felt that snacks should be displayed by product type and bag size. "Feedback from consumers of this kind is invaluable," says Romans. "We now know much more about what motivates people to buy crisps and snacks and, importantly, how they think bagged snacks should be displayed. "The challenge is for us to work even more closely with retailers to drive forward growth of the bagged snacks market." Ninety five per cent of UK households spend an average £44 a year on savoury snacks, so it's not surprising that the value of the market has reached a staggering £2.3 billion [Information Resources]. But as overall market growth slows to less than 1%, crisps are struggling to retain their share. Leading brands, such as Skips, Hula Hoops and Wotsits, have led the snack attack on crisps, along with Pringles, which accounts for 25% of all snacks in value and saw its share increase to 40% over the last Christmas period. Market leader in salty snacks, Walkers, has also been looking at key engines for growth by conducting research into the impulse sector with its retail partner, Alldays. Forty stores were involved in testing which lasted 22 weeks and answered a number of questions. Ben Bouldin, point of purchase executive for Walkers, says that maintaining breadth and reducing the depth of range can help deliver a 5% category sales increase. "The fixture is often too cluttered and not representative of what consumers prefer. Confusion doesn't make for a good impulse category." Walkers' research confirmed that the salty snacks market is indeed highly impulse led. It is also the most frequently eaten product category behind breakfast staples, and it is eaten at all times of the day across all consumer profiles. "Putting displays next to complementary categories, such as magazines, or by the till, sandwiches or videos, according to time or day, can in-crease product sales considerably," says Bouldin. The convenience factor is also important to consumers. According to Bouldin, the shopper expects to find related products wherever they go. "Salty snacks have a higher rate of sale than any other impulse cate-gory," says Bouldin and, he believes, delivered to the consumer in the right way, they can be a key driver of growth. Jo Evans, trade development director at The Snack Factory, reports that innovation in the own label sector has helped build the company's reputation as producers of high quality crisps and snacks. "We aim to turn over £60m by the end of 2003 by growing our own label business with existing customers and developing a branded division that will tap into emerging markets," she says. Evans points out that the growth of "macro snacking" on confectionery, cereal bars, chilled snack pots, cheese snacks, etc, has given the consumer a much broader choice. "The crisps, nuts and snacks category is no longer the only destination for a savoury nibble," she says. But it's hard for a product to make its mark in such a busy sector. "With shelf space at a premium, new products are given little time to build and they can easily be delisted if they don't grow quickly." Evans believes key drivers to growth are innovation in the form of new products, new packaging and new promotions. "It is difficult to predict the future of the salty snacks market in the medium to long term, although in the foreseeable future it will be difficult to grow without some fairly radical innovation and high levels of investment," she says. The Snack Factory has two branded launches planned this year and is working on a number of other product and packaging developments. "Our Thankgoodness Organic range will be launched in July to take advantage of new season potatoes and we plan to produce the best organic crisps in the market." It will go head to head with Kettle Chips, which recently launched its own Organic slightly salted chip, to be followed by Organic Tortillas this summer. It sees more opportunities to respond to consumer demand for organic products, but meanwhile it continues to add to its seasonal editions with a Sea Salt, Rosemary and Garlic variant, due out in May. Red Mill Snack Foods claims that snacking on the move is continuing to replace traditional mealtimes and the trend towards in home entertainment is also boosting adult consumption of snacks. Recently, a more favourable press for nuts, which are increasingly being promoted as an important part of a healthy diet, has helped fuel a change in consumer attitudes towards the category, according to Percy Daltons. David Cross, sales and marketing director, says the change has been particularly noticeable in roasted peanuts in shell, where an 8% value increase has occurred, according to the company's research. "Organic salted pea- nuts and organic salted cashew nuts have also successfully entered the market and, capitalising on the trend towards healthy eating, we have also introduced SOLO, low sodium sea salted peanuts." NATCO, owned by T Choithram and Sons, has also launched Honey Roast Jumbo Sized Cashew Nuts which have proved popular with health conscious customers, according to md Kishore Pagarani. "Our cashews are oil free which is an added bonus in light of the interest in healthy eating," he says. A new product has also been introduced by Planters in the form of Sea Salted Cashews, available in handy 40g packets. The smaller bag sizes appeal to the impulse purchaser who, according to Mintel, enjoys a high percentage of sales, at 21.5% of all nuts sold. Planters, which specialises in supplying speciality and premium nuts, will launch two new products this month ­ Select Nut Mix and Roast Macadamias. Brian Whittle, managing director of Trigon Snacks, which owns the Planters brand, says: "Speciality nuts are a highly desirable product and have grown at a much faster rate than the rest of the market. This is an area where we will continue to innovate." With this in mind, The Greek Nut Co is also promoting its Aegina Island Select Pistachios. Sales manager Petro Haidemenos says the nuts have a unique taste due to the climate and soil conditions on the island. The nuts are hand-picked, sun-dried and roasted with sea salt or lemon to create a rich, distinctive flavour. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}