The grab-and-go market is booming and manufacturers are finding there are new profits to be found in healthy, functional options and ever greater variety. Helen Lewis reports

It's easy to see why the UK's manufacturers are clamouring for their piece of the £8.9bn impulse pie [TNS 52 w/e March 26, 2006]. The shift towards on-the-go eating habits has encouraged experimentation with new products, and the three industry megatrends are merging as consumers demand convenient, healthy and indulgent products, wherever they are.
Impulse is a competitive environment where the strongest companies operate, according to Adam Pritchard, founder and MD of drinks company Pomegreat, which launched a 99p impulse format six months ago. For example, Pringles recently ventured into impulse with a Minis variant, which owner Procter & Gamble claims is proving popular in the multiples.
Traditional crisp and confectionery companies are also looking for healthier and premium alternatives that offer greater profit opportunities. PepsiCo recently added Snack-a-Jacks Popcorn to its healthier impulse portfolio, and Monkhill Confectionery is to launch a premium popcorn range called Butterkist Fusion in July. The Pecan & Almond and Chocolate Fudge variants will join the current Butterkist product range to appeal to the more discerning snacker, according to Steve Seddon, head of popcorn sales.
Amid the heightened spirits, it's all too easy to push the Golden Wonder blunder under the carpet. The iconic brand, which led the snack market in its 1960s heyday, fell from grace at the start of 2006 when it was snapped up in part by Tayto, with its Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies brands going to United Biscuits.
Despite the domination of Walkers, Gareth Pugh, a consultant at Dragon Brands, believes competition alone didn't lead to the company's collapse: "There was a succession of failures; they were too slow to react to market changes such as the health trend, plus they had distribution problems."
Jeremy Bradley, MD at Kettle Foods, says the news was a poignant reminder to enjoy success while it's with you: "Golden Wonder led innovation in our industry in the sixties. Yet today this is a ferociously competitive industry, dominated by one major player, and it's tough to stay ahead."
But market leader status failed to provide immunity for Walkers Sensations, with sales falling 17.8% in 2005 [ACNielsen 52 w/e October 1, 2005].
As a result, Walkers has relaunched its Sensations range with premium flavours such as Slow Roasted Lamb & Moroccan Spices. Refreshed packaging also aims to reinvigorate Walkers' role in the luxury end of the market.
The impulse sector has experienced a surge in products that are lower in fat, calories, salt and sugar, but it has also encouraged smaller players and start-ups to take the giant leap into impulse.
Georgina Edmonds, customer marketing manager at Ryvita, which recently launched Goodness Bars to complement its Minis bagged snacks range, says: "Impulse consumers want something that fulfils an immediate need. They want to find the product when and where they expect it."
PepsiCo's new launches respond to consumer need, says Andy Thompson, UK & Ireland director of wholesale & field sales. For example, its Nobby's new brand nuts, crisps and cuts are targeting 17 to 34-year-old males.
Launched in March 2005, the range responded to research which suggested that the eating habits of young males were often unplanned, and most snacks failed to fill them up.
While products such as Kettle Chips hold strong appeal for most adults, flavours do have a male or female bias. Nobby's Friday Night Balti Chicken crisps are squarely aimed at men, while Ryvita's Goodness Bars target women.
Yet despite Ryvita's heritage as a healthy, women's brand, there is potential to cross over into other demographics, says Edmonds. "We are currently evolving the product, so watch this space for a male target audience," he says.