Here’s some sweet and savory news to start the year: After a surge in sales and units in 2023, snacks are expected to see continued growth in c-stores in 2024.
Salty snacks, cookies and fruit snacks were among the fastest growing divisions within the all-important snack category at c-stores over the past year, as suppliers continued to innovate with interesting flavors that grabbed the attention of young customers.
C-store snack sales surged 10.5% to reach $12.8 billion for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 3, according to Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh data analyzed by 210 Analytics. And the gains weren’t just from price inflation, with volume increasing 2.2% and units rising 0.4%.
Notably, c-stores now represent 20.4% of all snack sales versus 18.8% three years ago, according to Circana.
“This is quite the accomplishment in a world where flat is the new growth,” Roerink said. “Convenience stores are ideally positioned for growth due to their strong engagement with millennial and Gen Z shoppers who are gearing up their spending as well as the greater level of consumer mobility as companies are tightening in-office work requirements.”
The demographics of c-store shoppers skew younger, and over half of individuals ages 18-44 told Circana last spring that they snack three times or more per day.
Another factor expected to benefit snack sales this year is c-stores’ ever-increasing sales of food and beverage items including coffee, sandwiches and pizzas, Roerink said.
“The lunch and dinner specials often include snacks,” she noted.
With all that in mind, here are the top four trends that are expected to influence snack sales this year.
Consumers still see value in snacking
Despite consumers’ economic concerns, snack sales continue to grow for a few reasons.
While on a price-per-pound basis, snacks are usually more expensive at c-stores versus other retailers, Roerink acknowledged, “the pack sizes are often a little bit smaller, creating a price point that is enticing for many consumers.”
And largely, customers today are seeking value and balancing money-well-spent against money-well-saved, Roerink explained.
“We are finally seeing more promotions in the marketplace,” she said. “In many cases, the price cuts are not as deep as they were with the promoted prices still far above year-ago levels, but a greater share of dollars and volume are sold while on merchandising, whether a display, on ad or both.”
As Americans demand greater bang for their buck, the number of snack value meals increased 6.8% on menus over the past year, according to Technomic.
“As consumers seek out value-driven options, these snack bundles will continue to increase in popularity over the coming year,” said Katie Belflower, an editor at foodservice research firm Technomic.
Belflower also expects to see more beverages as snack occasions, with items like bubble tea and energy drinks or refreshers “providing a quick and perhaps more affordable way for consumers to treat themselves.”
Exciting flavors meet familiar favorites
It’s no surprise that eye-catching new flavors are a key way to grab the attention of young shoppers.
“Extreme flavor innovation in snacking is happening on social media via viral trends and ease of discovery,” research firm Mintel said in a recent salty snacks report. Unusual snack flavors that launched last year include Jack Link’s Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili and Flamin’ Hot flavored beef jerky and meat sticks, via a partnership between Doritos and Jack Link’s.
Snacks are also becoming more adventurous in incorporating global flavors, with a big focus on Korean and Japanese ingredients, according to Roerink.
But while some hot new products include wild or unexpected taste combos, focusing on familiar flavors is an effective way to coax most consumers to try new options, according to Mintel.
Among the top snack flavors that consumers surveyed by Mintel said they had tried were dill pickle, BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), espresso and hot honey. Pepsico’s Frito Lay brand also debuted Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup chips at Bravocon in October.
“Motivation for new trial via education and creating familiar descriptions or combinations are paramount for emerging ingredients such as white truffle and bulgogi when connecting with snack consumers,” Mintel said.
High-protein, healthy snack sales rising
Healthy snacks — particularly high-protein and plant-based snacks — continue to grow in popularity and prevalence in c-stores.
The global protein snacks market reached a total revenue of $4.1 billion in 2022 and is expected to hit $10 billion by 2032, according to research firm Future Market Insights. Additionally, North America held the largest share of the protein snacks market last year at just north of 41%.
“When it comes to healthy, high-protein and plant-based snacks, I do expect to see more of all of these in 2024 — specifically high-protein snacks,” said Belflower.
In the past year, high-protein claims are up 2.7% on menus, according to Technomic Ignite Menu data for the third quarter of 2023, compared to the third quarter of 2022.
"As these claims increase on menus, I think we can expect to see this increase in snacks as well,” Belflower explained.
New high-protein snacks such as One Puffs Spicy Nacho cheese puffs and plant-based Outstanding Pig Out Crunchies Hella Hot were prolific at Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago last May.
Additionally, new products launched in 2023 focused more on clean ingredients and short ingredients lists, a trend that has been prevalent for the past few years, according to Roerink.
Salty snacks, cookies reign supreme
C-stores that emphasize salty snacks will likely see a sales spike again in 2024, as sales in that segment gained 14.6% and unit sales rose 3.1% last year, helped by gains from cheese snacks (2.9%), corn snacks excluding tortilla chips (9.5%), potato chips (3.2%) and tortilla chips (2.9%), per Circana.
Similarly, cookie sales surged a significant 19.2%, while units grew 2.9%. And across retail and c-stores, chocolate chips was one of fastest-growing ingredients last year, according to Technomic, appearing in cookies and dessert breads.
Reflecting consumers’ desire to balance indulgence with healthfulness, dry fruit snacks also “had a tremendous year” in c-stores, Roerink noted, with sales up 11.9%. Mango, for example, is one of the fastest-growing ingredients in c-stores and other retailers. The fruit is also appearing more in smoothies, “reflecting a balance of both indulgent and more health-driven snack options,” Belflower said.