The savoury snacks market in Europe is expected to hit US$5bn by 2006. New research has found that UK consumers eat more snacks than their counterparts in any other European country and are helping to fuel a period of robust growth. Underlying that growth, however, the continent’s historical and cultural differences shape a highly regionalised market. Innovative and targeted products will be called for if the market’s undoubted potential is to be met.

The UK’s market for savoury snacks, at $1.7bn the biggest in Europe, outpaces the combined value of the German, French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish markets, which together round out the continent’s top six. The findings are highlighted in a new report from Datamonitor, which pegs the value of the total European market at just shy of $4bn in 2001, a rise of over a billion dollars in five years.

But such impressive growth masks a complex picture. Despite identifying some broad trends, regional tastes and traditions mean that European markets have proved stubbornly individual. Although preferences and lifestyles are converging across Europe to some extent, the Europeanisation of snacking trends and preferences is incomplete.

Great differences still characterise the Western European snack markets: some product categories are underexploited and others just don’t have the growth potential. Pretzels, for example, are Austria’s most popular savoury snack. Yet outside German-speaking countries, their market share plummets.

Add to the mixture the fact that many markets are already well served by established regional and international manufacturers such as Kraft, KP and Intersnack, and the result is a complicated and highly competitive pan-European market.

Yet the growing market has created notable new opportunities. Ethnic snacks have shown strong growth in markets including the UK, France and Portugal and sales are expected to balloon at twice the rate of the overall market until at least 2006. At the same time, increasingly time-starved consumers are expected to eat on-the-move more often, blurring the line between mealtimes and snacking.

Although highly regionalised, broad trends are at work in the European savoury snacks market that will continue to drive growth and create opportunities. Despite intense competition, strategies that recognise the market’s complexity and are quick to exploit emerging trends are likely to meet with success.

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