The savoury biscuits sector is in danger of becoming the poor relation of the market with sales down 0.1% to £72m and little growth in the £228m crackers and crispbreads sector [TNS].

Part of the problem is the success of sweet biscuits, which have attracted greater investment, admits Mark Sugden, director of customer marketing at UBUK, which owns the Jacob's brand,

This not to say there has been no activity from UBUK in savoury. New lines under the Jacob's brand include Savours - an upmarket range of crackers in flavours such as rosemary & sea salt - as well as light and flavoured versions of its core Jacob's Cream Crackers brand.

The good news is the major brands look set to reinvigorate the category next year. UBUK says it has "strong plans" to support Jacob's in 2008 with more grab-and-go formats. Meanwhile, Georgina Edmonds, Ryvita's customer marketing manager, says it has "lots of NPD in the pipeline".

Ryvita has been one of the busier brands in the market with a steady stream of 2007 launches, such as Goodness Bar Luxury, Ryvita Crispbread Snack Packs and a revamp of its crackerbread with a wholegrain variant. The company says these moves have helped it overtake Quaker as the biggest brand in the crackers and crispbread subsector. However, sales were still down by 1.9% year-on-year [Nielsen].

Edmonds lays some of the blame for declining savoury sales down to innovation in healthy sweet biscuits. "Consumers have been seduced by the health claims of new sweet biscuits, but on closer inspection you find these are often loaded with sugar."

One company that has not been put off by declining sales in savoury biscuits is Burton's Foods, which entered the category for the first time in May with the launch of baked Savoury Nibbles under Unilever's Bertolli olive oil brand. The brand has been extended with Ligurian Flatbreads and Focaccia Crackers.

"In the long term there is real potential in the market, says category controller Sue Garfitt. "It is down at the moment because consumers are moving away from low-fat products such as Snack-a-Jacks. But people are interested in a more holistic approach to health and are looking for authentic products with health benefits. Bertolli olive oil really meets these kinds of demands."

The fragmented nature of savoury biscuits - split between crackers, crispbreads and products that could be considered more like crisps than biscuits - also makes it "primed for reinvigoration", says Garfitt. "There's an opportunity for a beacon brand that will act as a signpost for the shopper looking for a naturally healthy savoury snack." n