Nine out of ten Americans eat salty snacks, emphasising the popularity of salty snacks in the American diet, according to Mintel’s recent research.

Nearly 25% of those who eat salty snacks do so in front of the TV or the computer.  In addition, more than a quarter of salty snack consumers say they eat them as a meal replacement or between meals.

According to Mintel’s research, 93% of Americans with children in their households say that they buy salty snacks, compared to 87% of those without children under age 18 at home.

Salty snacks account for slightly over half of total snack sales.  Rising some 23% from 1998 to 2003, the US$21.1bn salty snack market has experienced moderate growth.  The leading segment, potato chips, generates most of the market sales with a share of approximately 28% for 2003.  This segment is a platform for much innovation, as are tortilla chips, which help set the stage for stable market growth, said Mintel.

Tortilla chips, cheese snacks, snack nuts & seeds, and other salty snacks increased at twice the rate of the overall market, boosted by innovation, new flavours and the positive association of nuts and seeds with health and diet.

Consumers are also demanding snacks low in carbohydrates, which has given rise to higher sales of pork rinds and has spurred Frito-Lay to introduce a low carb tortilla chip in early 2004, Mintel said.  Numerous other health-impacting qualities in salty snacks are present on store shelves such as Soy Nuts by Genisoy, Utz Foods’ three new varieties of fat-free potato chips, and Wise Foods’ launch of No Salt Added Hearty chip.

In terms of new product introductions, Mintel’s Global New Products Database reports that salty snack introductions in the US remained fairly steady in 2002 and 2003, but 2004 appears to be poised for significant growth. That growth may be due to the impact of low carb chip alternatives, plus new flavours and product styles. There has been a lessening of low-fat offerings in the salty snacks category, and increased introductions of products that focus on flavour and taste.