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  • Puffed and extruded snack sales are climbing
  • International and spicy flavors are increasingly popular
  • Plant-based and BFY products are trending

Crunch cravings

Consumers look for better-for-you puffed and extruded snacks, including spicy varieties.

Liz Parker, Senior Editor

Puffed and extruded snacks can range from cheese snacks, to corn chips and pork rinds, to puffs, to veggie chips. There has been a lot of innovation in the category lately, and consumers now can have their pick of whatever format they’d like to enjoy.

Puffed & Extruded Snacks


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Market data
According to Circana (Chicago) data from the past 52 weeks, ending on April 23, the puffed and extruded snacks category increased by 16.2% from the past year, with an astounding total sales of $36.89 billion.

The “other salted snacks (no nuts)” subcategory brought in $7.5 billion of that $36.89 billion, with a 14.2% increase in sales compared to the previous period last year. Frito Lay variety brands brought in $3.2 billion, a 20.7% increase; its Funyuns brand brought in $671 million, a 34.6% increase in sales. In addition, PepsiCo’s SunChips brand brought in $466 million, a 25.5% increase.

The “cheese snacks” subcategory earned $3.71 billion in sales, a 12.8% increase, including the Cheetos brand ($2.9 billion of that $3.71 number, an 18.2% increase); Cheez It brand ($244 million in sales, with a 19.9% increase); and Utz brand snacks, with $105.6 million in sales and a modest 3.4% increase.

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Source: Circana, Total U.S. Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), 52 Weeks ending April 23, 2023

The “corn snacks (no tortilla chips)” subcategory brought in $2.4 billion in sales, a 26.9% increase, and the Fritos brand brought in $1.29 billion of that, a 23.3% increase. Chesters brand brought in $344.6 million, a 57.9% increase in sales, and PopCorners brought in $311 million, a 54.2% increase. Others to keep an eye on: private label corn snacks, which saw a 51.3% increase in sales, and Cheetos’ corn snacks, which had a 72.7% increase in sales.

Not to be forgotten, the pork rinds subcategory brought in $620 million, a small decrease of 1.6% in sales. Baken-Ets traditional pork rind skins brought in $129 million of that, a 4.2% increase from last year, and Macs brought in $114.4 million, a 5.1% dip in sales. Private label pork rinds, bringing in $66.5 million in sales, experienced a nice increase of 14.1% in sales.

Looking back
“One big trend we’re seeing [in puffed/extruded snacks] is a growing interest in international flavors,” says Sandra Payer, head of marketing, Calbee America Inc., Fairfield, CA, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s 2023 Snack Producer of the Year.

“With this in mind, Calbee is expanding the presence of its Japanese legacy products and bringing them to mainstream U.S. grocers; these items are currently sold in Asian markets or in the ethnic aisle of select retailers. Examples include JagaRico, crunchy potato sticks made with only with real potatoes and veggies that are available in Original and Hokkaido Butter flavors, and our Shrimp Chips. These wheat-puffed snacks are made with sushi-grade, wild-caught shrimp and baked to a light and airy crunch. The brand will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year!” she exclaims.

“Plant-based, better-for-you snacking trends are also going strong, since people are still snacking more often throughout the day since COVID and looking for healthier, more nutritious options, like our Harvest Snaps baked snacks made with veggies as the first ingredient,” Payer shares.

“In January 2022, we redesigned our Harvest Snaps’ packaging to bring a fresh energy and a modern identity to the brand, while also creating a brand architecture that allows us to effectively add exciting, new innovations. By responding to category insights, simplifying our messaging, and focusing on distinctive brand assets, we managed to accelerate brand growth and increase units in a highly competitive category,” she finishes.

Jared Johnson, vice president of innovation, Frito-Lay, Plano, TX, says that consumer snacking preferences are always evolving, and some behaviors are new, like how our homes serve more as a hub for how we work, live, and play.

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Courtesy of Calbee America Inc.

“The Frito-Lay 2023 Snack Index backs up the role the home plays in consumers’ snacking habits: we found most Americans enjoy snacks at home with family (62%) or when taking time for themselves (62%). A recent Frito-Lay Snack Index shows that shareability is key. Americans note ‘something for everyone’ (74%) and ‘easy to share’ (63%) are the ideal attributes for food and snacks this summer,” he reveals.

“The way snacks are viewed in the kitchen is changing. We’re seeing an increase in consumers using snacks with or as part of recipes—with 95% of Americans saying their Super Bowl dishes this past February included snacks,” Johnson adds.

“Americans are snacking more than ever before as they shift from three meals a day to mini meals that fit their busy lifestyles. With this shift comes increased expectations around the functional benefits of snacks. Consumers also increasingly look for brands to reflect their values, which puts more emphasis on our snack brands to not just deliver a great snack experience, but to connect to a larger purpose,” he notes.

“We are also seeing that more than 71% of consumers say they’re more excited to try new flavors or variations of their favorite snacks in 2023 than in previous years. We are focused on innovating snacks that deliver on our brand promises while delighting consumers across all their snacking occasions,” Johnson says.

Mark Chu, senior director of marketing, Hershey Salty Snacks (The Hershey Co.), Hershey, PA, says that in terms of pack type trends, 67% of all cheese curl/puff consumption comes from single-serve packaging (source: NPD).

“45% of total cheese snacks and puffs dollars are single-count, followed by 0.8% 30-count, 0.7% six-count, and 0.5% 12-count,” he shares.

“The top five flavors in the cheese snacks and puffs category include hot/spicy, other cheese, cheddar, onion, and salt. Hot/spicy saw the largest increase over the past year, while cheddar saw the largest increase two years ago. Lastly, the top three form types for cheese puffs and snacks are curls, puffs, and rings,” Chu comments.

Nick Desai, founder, PeaTos, Los Angeles, says that the better-for-you snack category has long been associated with “boring snacks that taste like cardboard,” but consumers today demand full-flavor snacks that don’t sacrifice on taste.

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Courtesy of The Hershey Company

“The pandemic brought a lot of changes to the salty snack category, including huge growth in the direct-to-consumer side of the business. In just the last year, we’ve also seen PeaTos expand with new retail partners including Sam’s Club, and gain 6,000 new points of retail distribution, making it one of the fastest growing snack brands in the nation. The PeaTos brand is well-positioned for category dominance as we continue to place a large importance on gross margins and profitability,” Desai predicts.

PeaTos recently released its PeaTos Puffs, in two flavor varieties: Crunchy Fiery Lime Puffs and Crunchy Cheese-less Puffs.

“The new Puff varieties are truly revolutionary and are the first full-flavor pea-based, better-for-you puffs on the market,” says Desai.

Looking forward
Payer says that within the last year, Calbee America launched Harvest Snaps Selects, plant-based snacks with whole navy beans as the #1 ingredient, and added a white cheddar flavor to its core lineup of Harvest Snaps Baked Green Pea Snacks.

“White cheddar is a key flavor in the U.S. snacking market and highly demanded among shoppers of all ages, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring this must-have flavor to our core Harvest Snaps’ lineup,” she shares.

“Expanding on our Japanese brands, Calbee recently launched Takoyaki Ball. A combination of sweet and savory, these crunchy, ball-shaped poppers stay true to the authentic flavors of takoyaki (octopus puffs), a popular street food from Japan,” Payer adds.

“We are working on promising innovations that allow us to tap into new snacking occasions and go after more consumer targets. Overall, we want to leverage Calbee’s strength in innovation technology to bring exciting launches to the U.S. market. Stay tuned!” she promises.

Desai says that PeaTos is very much focused on the new PeaTos Puffs, which are generating tremendous interest.

“We also have an exciting partnership with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie franchise, which is due for release this summer,” he reveals.

The brand’s three-ounce size bags of its Crunchy Pizza Rings will feature the Turtles prominently on its packaging, as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie will be hitting theaters on August 4.

Chu comments that Hershey is excited to continue expanding the Pirate’s Booty portfolio. “Our focus for the next year will be on our core, so new products will come in the form of new/improved pack sizes rather than flavor/form innovation,” he explains.

“Plant-based, better-for-you snacking trends are going strong, since people are still snacking more often throughout the day since COVID and looking for healthier, more nutritious options.”

— Sandra Payer, head of marketing, Calbee America Inc., Fairfield, CA

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“In the puffs category, Pirate’s Booty is our core brand, and over the last two years, we’ve been extremely focused on its growth. In fact, we achieved our goal of becoming the #1 better-for-you puff, and now our ambition has grown to become a top 10 kids snack brand,” Chu adds.

“To accomplish this goal, we’re expanding beyond reaching our core audience of parents with kids ages 2–5 to include a secondary audience capturing our ‘age up strategy’ of parents with kids ages 6–12. As we look at our portfolio, our aged white cheddar rice and corn puffs focus on satisfying the needs of our core audience, while we will utilize innovation, such as Cheddar Blast—made with 50% more cheese—and Crunch Attack, to retain the parents with older kids,” he finishes.

Chu says that in January, Pirate’s Booty debuted Crunch Attack! Great-White Cheddar Puffs, featuring the white cheddar the brand is known for, but now with a “kid-approved, exciting crunch, designed to grow with kids as their preferences change.”

“Pirate’s Booty Crunch Attack! also maintains all the core qualities parents love about Pirate’s Booty snacks. Kids get the crunchy treat they crave, while parents feel good about the brand they trust,” he relates. SF&WB