Out of the Ordinary

Alternative snacks provide a taste of the unusual.

Out of the Ordinary

April 2022   minute read

By: Sarah Hamaker

From puffed veggies to spicy meat sticks, consumers are loving their alternative snacks at convenience stores. “In 2021, the category exceeded all prior years in sales and showed really strong sales in nearly every month,” said Jayme Gough, research manager, NACS. “This category is a staple for travelers looking for a savory treat, a morning commuter purchasing a snack for later or a dried-meat enthusiast. As more people get back on the roads and start to go back into the office, this category is ripe with opportunity.”

Just The Facts
Average annual sales per store of alternative snacks rose 3% to $56,196 in 2020. 
Source: NACS State of the Industry Report of 2020 Data

Dan DeMeyer, director, sales strategy, Kellogg Company, agreed. “As more consumers return to traveling, using health clubs and working from their offices, interest in on-the-go consumption has increased, benefiting the alternative snacks category,” he said.


The alternative snacks category with its four subcategories has a small in-store slice of sales, but it is a powerful one with continued growth potential. “The alternative snacks category has certainly been embraced by our customer base at Roaster’s Market, and we don’t see any signs of that changing,” said Caroline Miles, marketing coordinator, Lawson Holdings LLC, owner of Roaster’s Market in Ada, Oklahoma.

Although category sales declined during the first part of 2020, they rebounded later in 2020 and surged in 2021. “The No. 1 sales contributor to the category in 2020 was the other alternative snacks subcategory at 40% of the sales, according to the NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Report of 2020 Data,” Gough said. “This tracks with trends toward puffed vegetables and dried fruits.”

Source: NACS State of the Industry Report of 2020 Data

The second sales contributor was the meat snacks subcategory with 36.2% of the category sales, according to 2020 NACS SOI data. “Meat snacks have been a reliable source of revenue for the category for years, and even more interesting flavors and sizes continue to evolve the category,” Gough said. Meat snacks continued to gobble up sales throughout 2021, too. “This subcategory saw increased monthly sales in every month of 2021 over 2020 and 2019,” Gough said. “That helped to push the overall growth of the alternative snacks category to higher sales each month of 2021 over the previous two years.” (Year-end sales data for 2021 will be presented this month at the NACS SOI Summit.)

“Many alternative snacks are growing double digits as shoppers seek better-for-you snacks while still satisfying their need for sweet and salty flavors.”

Sales at Hormel Foods supported that assessment. “We saw positive trends coming from the alternative snacks category throughout 2021, and we are looking at 2022 to be another positive year in the convenience channel,” said Tim Bortner, Planters brand manager, foodservice, at Hormel Foods.

Other subcategories in alternative snacks posted positive numbers, such as health/energy bars. “Despite starting off slower in 2021 than other categories, by March, monthly sales of health/energy bars were above that of the previous two years,” Gough said.

“Many alternative snacks are growing double digits as shoppers seek better-for-you snacks while still satisfying their need for sweet and salty flavors,” said Lance Smith, vice president, industry affairs and consumer strategy, PIM Brands Inc. “Fruit snacks, meat snacks, nuts, bars and cheese sticks all grew in the last year.”


Alternative snacks category innovations drive higher sales. For instance, new ingredients replacing traditional ingredients in category products include swapping corn and potatoes with beets, sweet potatoes, peas, beans and Brussel sprouts. “The category also benefited from a trend toward foods that make you feel good, and eating whole foods,” Gough said.

Alternative snacks growing in popularity include dry fruit snacks, low-cal and plant-based snack bars, high-protein meator plant-based snacks, and dried fruit. “Also, salty alternative snacks, like veggie chips and straws, kale chips and seaweed chips have shown good growth, while nuts and trail mix continue to be popular among health-conscious shoppers,” Smith said.

Source: CSX LLC; csxllc.com

At Roaster’s Market, “people are most certainly looking for organic products with fewer preservatives,” Miles said. “Rather than wanting a sweet, they want a boost—something that’s going to add to their energy, not their weight.”

Nearly everything in The Goods Mart could be considered an alternative snack. “We curate tried and true brands in the category as well as bring in new brands for discovery,” Rachel Krupa, owner of the two New York City stores. For example, alternative snacks products are incorporating ingredients from different cultures and countries, such as cactus, black gram and banana flour. “We see these ingredients popping up in more U.S. products these days,” she said. “About 80% of the store are new brands.”

Spencer Fivelson, vice president/general manager, snacks, Conagra Brands, said, “Consumers are also focused on premium ingredients and flavors” and are “looking for exciting, dynamic flavors. The challenge is to deliver flavors that are bold yet broad in their appeal.” In addition to expanding its flavor profiles in the category, Conagra has adjusted packaging, creating both larger sizes and a more compact size in its two meat stick lines.


These retailers and suppliers view alternative snacks as the perfect option for a wide variety of snacking occasions. “Given alternative snacks’ healthier halo, these are more likely to be consumed during the morning or afternoon snacking occasions,” said Smith.

“Alternative snacks also can act as a meal replacement because they tend to be rich in more whole ingredients and higher in protein,” DeMeyer added. “Because alternative snacks offer a variety of sweet (dried fruit, granola) and savory (beef jerky, dried vegetable) options, consumers can easily fulfill snacking occasions depending on their cravings.”

DeMeyer recommended retailers use both permanent and temporary displays of alternative snacks to drive trial. “Counter units could be placed near hot beverages to incentivize hot beverage purchases along with an alternative snack,” he said.

Source: CSX LLC; csxllc.com

“Using in-store media and promotional tactics to nudge and remind shoppers about the available options during their stop are effective to pushing alternative snacks sales,” said Bortner. “Alternative snacks play across all snacking occasions and dayparts, so it’s important to emphasize and promote offerings that provide both a satiating boost and a true snack.”

Roaster’s Market is “always trying to promote interest in alternative snacks,” Miles said. “When we run promotions, we try to incorporate a nutritious element. Generally speaking, it’s our goal to retrain our customers to buy into the notion that fast doesn’t have to be high calorie—fast can be good for you and affordable.”

The Goods Mart’s constantly rotating stock promotes trial and discovery among its shoppers. “We bring in new products every two weeks or so,” Krupa said. “This encourages our customers to stop by often to see what’s new.”

“Using in-store media and promotional tactics to nudge and remind shoppers are effective to pushing alternative snack sales.”


The future for alternative snacks at convenience stores will continue to brighten. “Alternative snacks weren’t the No. 1 sales driver for us, but it sure rivaled the top,” said Miles with Roaster’s Market. “Alternative snacks can satisfy that little bit of hunger between meals and not make the consumer feel guilty about it.”

Added Krupa, “I think the snack marketplace is exploding faster and larger than ever before. There are so many interesting and cool brands hitting the alternative snack marketplace—that’s only going to continue as new ingredients and flavors are introduced in the category and move into the mainstream.”

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.

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