Jerky and nutrition bars have long been the face of protein snacks, but it was cheesy, crunchy and even sweet options that drew protein-conscious attendees at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago.
Protein-packed alternative snacks seemed to feature at every other exhibitor booth throughout the 210,000-square-foot show floor last week.
“It’s the biggest thing going on,” Herb Ring, national foodservice director for the Hershey Co., said in an interview.
These latest additions to the Sweets & Snacks Expo come amid a protein snack boom around the world. 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 market share of protein snacks last year at just north of 41%.
Moving forward, demand for protein snacks is expected to rise, especially in the U.S., as brands spread awareness of these products’ health benefits and consumers prioritize healthy snacking, the firm noted.
This applies to plant-based snacking, which also had a heavy appearance at the expo, as well.
From cheddar cheese protein crackers and spicy nacho protein puffs to bacon ranch protein croutons and sweet chili protein tortilla chips, suppliers at the expo were set on getting indulgent, protein-centric snacks into the hands of jerky and protein bar customers.
Outstanding Foods showcased plant-based pork rinds that touted seven grams of protein on each snack-sized bag, while Quest Nutrition displayed its Cheddar Blast Cheese Crackers, which offer 10 grams of protein per pouch. Independent snack company Protein Poppers debuted its flagship product of the same name — a take on the well-known air-popped Pop Chips — that feature nine grams of protein per pouch.
So why are so many snack makers suddenly honing in on protein?
John Larsen, president of Marathon Ventures, which was touting cashews, walnuts and peanuts in a variety of flavors at the show, said the protein-snacking boom is about finding balance.
“[Alternative protein products] have the health halo, but they’ve got to taste good,” he said.
Even protein chocolate candy made an appearance at the expo. WheyBetter Crisps resemble M&Ms and boast 10 grams of protein per 1.8-ounce pouch. Steve Arnold, vice president of sales and marketing for Kimmie Candy, the manufacturer for WheyBetter Crisps, said these bite-sized candies are for health-conscious people who want M&Ms.
“It fits the dietary restrictions, but at the end of the day, it’s a good piece of candy,” Arnold said.
That’s not to say jerky and protein bars weren’t at the show. The usual suspects — from Jack Link’s and Wenzel’s Farm jerky to Quest Nutrition’s protein cookies — were promoting both old and new flavors of the protein products that have become c-store staples over the years.
But if this year’s expo was any indication of the direction snacking trends are headed, those tides may be turning. The suppliers at the show made it clear: Alternative protein snacks are in.