Bar Snacks: The Taste Explosion

In recent years trends in popularity in the bar snack environment have tended increasingly to change more quickly than in the selection of beers offered. Bill Lumley reports on the evolution in taste and expectation.

Anyone over a certain age will remember frequenting bars where the range of snack available to accompany a drink in an inn or pub typically comprised peanuts or crisps, from beef jerky to pickled eggs.

Only in the early 1980s did this pattern start to see disruption with the emergence of the pork scratching.

Over the past decade however there has been a dramatic diversification of snacks.

Philly Sweetnam is head of out of home sales at Popchips UK. She tells Innkeeper magazine there is a movement in the UK towards premium bar snacks in British inns.

“The range of snacks now available in bars, both value and premium, has significantly increased over the last five years both in terms of crisps and nuts but also in other snacks such as jerky and popcorn,” she says. “As consumers are becoming more health conscious, they are also becoming more demanding, so offering a range of snacks which cater to wide range of needs is becom- ing increasingly important. Popchips are ‘popped’ not fried, so are under 100 calories per serving and contain around half the fat of standard fried crisps.”

“We continue to see a growing trend towards health- ier snacking and in the bagged snacks category we’ve seen the better for you products grow by 35% since 2014, whilst the rest of the category has been pretty flat, growing at just 0.8% over the same period.”

What also continues to be clear is that consumers are looking for healthier options, but without having to compromise on taste, she says. “At popchips we have noticed a demand for interesting, strong flavours with SKUs such as BBQ becoming one of our most suc- cessful flavour launches to date. We also find that these strong flavours tend to be what consumers are looking for when complemented with their drink of choice, which is where our Ridges range really comes into its own with flavours such as Smokey Bacon and spicy Buffalo Range.”

Snack providers are now not surprisingly focusing their target on the kind of consumer that will embrace this new market.

“Popchips is fairly new to the licensed environment and we’re currently focusing on urban locations, which suit our core consumer, but we feel there is great potential for us to grow in this area. The recent Public Health England campaign, which has switched its focus towards calories – 100 calorie snacks, twice a day max – shows that there will be an increasing move toward healthier snacking which will affect all outlets, particularly those which attract families.”

The movement away from the bog-standard nuts-and-chips range on offer in inns and pubs has opened wide to embrace even the pickled egg. Sue Tyley, picking director at Purely Picked Eggs based in Gloucestershire tells Innkeeper magazine that the bar snack environment is being driven by a move toward healthier, higher quality snacks, traditional “but with a twist” – “wanting to try new, more cosmopolitan snacks or flavours and wanting to associate with brands with more personality or sense of provenance.”

Purely Pickled Eggs manufactures premium British free range pickled eggs in 12 different flavours. Tyley says she has seen a movement in the UK towards inns providing a wider variety of bar snacks.

The growth of micropubs – around 800 now in the UK – is one driver towards more bar snacks as they have no kitchen but want snacks that support their premium offering, she says. “The community pub is a similar driver. And then many inns/bars are looking to differen- tiate themselves whilst increasing the average spend and look to bar snacks to help with that. Premium bar as a way of differentiating adding to the customer experience.”

The supplier targets male drinkers aged 25 – 55 in wet-led pubs with up to 50:50 split. “This is the profile of your typical pickled egg fan,” she says.

Research from Mintel predicts the value of the total UK savoury snacks market will grow by 8% between 2016 and 2021, to reach £4.3 billion linked to an anticipated 1.6% volume growth. Tyley says: “Within this market, our own sustained growth leads us to believe bar snacks are increasing.”

Katy Hamblin is marketing manager at Piper crisps which was recently once again voted Britains’s best brand of savoury snack for the sixth consecutive year. She emphasises the increasing importance of premium crisps and the opportunity they offer operators to increase sales and margin.

“Premium crisps are one of the best-performing types of snack in the on-trade at present, having almost doubled their penetration in less than five years,” she tells Innkeeper magazine. “They also represent significant advantage over ‘standard’ and ‘value’ crisps in terms of their rate of sale and price/margin.”  Premium crisps command around a 30% price premium over quality mainstream products according to CGA Trading Index figures, she adds.

“Ever-more sophisticated consumer tastes have led licensed outlets to premiumise their food menus, enhance flavours and improve provenance. This trend has also driven the ‘premiumisation’ of snacks and is the reason behind the huge sales growth in this category. The growth is happening right across the UK, in all kinds of bars,” she says.

The CGA Trading Index figures send a clear message to operators. “Premium crisps offer a great opportunity to grow sales and increase margin by meeting the consumer demand for greater menu sophistication and food provenance,” Hamblin says. “Premium crisps are the perfect snack for more discerning customers who don’t mind paying for high quality, great-tasting products.”

She says that by selecting the right premium crisp brand, inn operators can further enhance the benefits they achieve. “Look for  a range of flavours that are on-trend and ac- company a wide variety of drink choices,” she suggests. “For example, our recently launched Jalapeno & Dill meets the current trend for heat and exciting flavour combinations that satisfy consumers’ desire for innovation.  This is particularly relevant for 18-34 year olds, the most significant snack-buying segment and a key target for licensed operators. Like all Pipers Crisps, Jalapeno & Dill is a strong, ‘grown-up’ flavour, so it will be popular in pubs, clubs and bars where it’s the perfect accompaniment for an ice-cold bottled lager served with fresh lime.”

Hamblin says: “These days crisps aren’t just for beer drinkers; Britain’s growing number of spirit drinkers – particularly gin – are realising that premium crisps are also the perfect partner for their favourite tipple. The gin-drinking revolution is currently riding the crest of a wave based on exciting new premium blends. Gin distillers are travelling the world discovering the best flavour combinations – juniper and other botanicals – to make their gin unique.”

Gin drinkers are looking for high quality snacks with innovative herbal flavours that go really well with these gins, she says. “Flavours such as thyme and rosemary work really well in premium crisps and are a perfect match for great gins.”

It’s worth recognising the increasing importance of healthier eating and the fact that growing numbers of people are choosing to follow a gluten-free diet, either because they are gluten intolerant or suffer from coeliac disease, she says. “As an additional selling point, look for a range of premium crisps that is gluten-free and preferably also wheat-free and barley-free,” she suggests.

There are plenty of inns diversifying beyond the traditional bar snack world to provide such products as pies and sausage rolls. James Hughes Davies is director at Little Jack Horner’s, based in Frome in Somerset. “We try to make the very best sausage rolls that we can,” he says. “All of our meat and dairy comes from free-range and/or organic, local small holdings and farms with impeccable welfare credentials. We’re Taste of the West Savoury Bakery Champion 2017 and have won many Great Taste Awards.

“If you want to sell a sausage roll that represents the very best of traditional British comfort food in your establishment, then that is what separates us from our competitors.”

He agrees that times are changing, and that consumers are thinking a lot more both about what they consume and where it comes from, especially with meat products. “I’d far rather eat really good meat occasion- ally that tastes better and comes from well looked after animals, than poor quality processed meat with every meal,” he tells Innkeeper magazine.

“Our sausage rolls simply taste better, and it’s easy to justify paying a little bit more for something such as our sausage rolls that are better quality, as it’s an affordable luxury. I think across the board people are demanding better food, and it filters into the entire hospitality sector. Less mass produced processed rubbish, with little nutritional value and tasting okay at best, and more small-scale production that has identity and individuality, are a talking point, and ultimately are delicious.

“Better bar snacks mean more people eating the snacks, and more people staying in your establishment drinking your beer. As far as the innkeeper is concerned, the bar snacks that you serve are representative of your establishment, it’s important to think of the experience that your customers have as a whole, and these snacks are very much a part of that experience. The more positive and memorable then the more likely it is that the customers will return,” he adds.

Little Jack Horner’s does not specifically target any particular sector, he says. “We work as bar snacks for wet-led pubs and also starter/light lunch/platter options for food-led pubs as well. It’s a versatile product that people instantly under- stand. It’s more to do with the personal attitude of the publican, manager or chef.

“Successful working relationships usually begin with them trying our sausage rolls and saying, ‘Wow, these are different, they taste great and I want to make these work in my establishment’. Then we can work with them to plan how best to do that, because we know that they sell if promoted properly, he says.

I Love Snacks director Amanda Cook says that overall there is a shift of consumers attitude towards the food they are eating. “There is a trend for healthier snacks across all sections including snacks with consumers looking for natural nacks that have few ingredients, no added sugar and preservatives,” she tells innkeeper.

“People want to snack whilst out but at the me time require good quality choices and snacks at meets diets as well as lifestyles. Consumers are looking for healthier snacks wherever they are and not willing to compromise on taste. With more quality wet led run pubs flourishing and offering consumers a greater choice and quality, I Love

Inevitably bar snacks have evolved along with the od industry in recent years, according to Ember Snacks co-founder Harry Mayhew. “Consumer now compared to 10 years ago have started to care a lot more about their diet,” he says. “Products with high fat and sugar, such as pork scratchings, have decreased in popularity, whereas snacks with low sugar fat have increased. Our biltong ticks all of these boxes, it is low calorie, high in protein, great tasting crucially no sugar. Snacks range is a perfect snack addition to their offerings. I Love Snacks Italian Olives are a perfect fit with a gin, I Love Snacks Smoked Almonds with a glass of wine & Mixed Nuts both fit well with wine and all types of beer.

If we look at Brewdog for example. In their own words, they say on their website, ‘we’ve recently been giving the food in our bars a bit of attention, and we’re working on some awesome new concepts for our menus!’ Brewdog has moved with the times in both drinks, bar food, and bar snacks, we are delighted to be working with them in half a dozen of their bars across London.”

In addition to this, in general, the quality of pub food has also been on the up, days of ‘pub grub’ are fading, where as the days of ‘gourmet’ or ‘bistro’ or ‘gastro’ pub food are upon us, he tells Innkeeper. “As pub food continues to grow in standard, so does the standard of the snacks. However it is a developing time, and according to ‘Potential of pub and bar snacks,’ research by McCain Foodservice claims that publicans are missing out on a potential windfall of £400m by not having good enough side and snack offers.”

For the time being, Ember Snacks target ages are between 20 and 50 years old, he says. “Within this age bracket, we are targeting super markets, pubs, and online outletOur slogan of ‘feed your fire,’ applies to everyone. We want our biltong to be for every occasion whether that be a relaxed afternoon snack or a post work out protein hit.”

Cleaver & Keg supplies what it calls “meaty morsels for the modern drinker”. Founder Dan Searle describes the brand as “beer-focused British Charcuterie – created specifically with the on trade in mind – with beer pair- ings on the pack”. The brand works with beer-led inns, pubs, bars and hotels all over the country – “anything from back street pubs to gastro pubs. As long as they understand good beer, their customers will be seeking out a decent snack to go with it,” he says.

He tells Innkeeper: “The UK snack market is still emerging. We have been in the market since April 2016 and things are most certainly starting to gather momen- tum with new entrants and growing consumer demand but there is a long way to go.”

Consumers are looking for more complex flavour profiles in their snacks to match the same in their beer, he suggests. “Consumers are also seeking our alternative nutritional values in their snacks – higher protein, less saturated fats and lower carbs for example,” he says.

The demand for high quality, gourmet burgers and slow-cooked beef and lamb products isn’t slowing down in UK pubs and bars and there is ever increasing demand for operators to produce and serve finished dishes that are tender and full of flavor, quickly and consistently, even though there may be a lack of skill, equipment and experience in the kitchen.

Customers are becoming more open to sharing food together when dining out and comfortable eating at the bar or in “quick-service” in-formal environments, such as outdoor street food markets, customers are also demanding more variety from menus while expecting the portion sizes to be good value for money.

If it’s choosy carnivores you wish to treat with a great snack then look no further than Anzco foods. The supplier has a mouth-watering product range called Angel Bay, comprising a range of gourmet, part-cooked New Zealand, export quality, froze, hala, beef and

lamb products including burgers, meatballs and sliders. Spokesman Fletcher Bowley tells Innkeeper: The beef sliders and lamb bites make ideal bar snack products.”

It also sells a range it calls Nourish, a similar range of gourmet, slow-cooked beef and lamb products help manage. “We do all of our own processing and manufacturing in our own plants and control the export, so each product is fully traceable back to the farm and as a vertically integrated supply chain we can always ensure the highest standards of animal welfare, product quality and consistent supply all year around.

“The products come from both grass-fed, free range cattle and lambs and the pastures they feed on in New Zealand are rich in nutrients and the free range, wide open space they have to roam and relax means the highest quality of finishing is achievable. The taste of our beef is delicious, beautifully tender a is to gourmet standard whether in a burger, meatball, slider or it’s the beef ribs, and our lamb is rich in flavour amazingly tender and melts in the mouth either in a burger or it’s the lamb shank,” he says.

He adds: “Our products provide a solution to this challenge, by providing a prepared product that maintains it’s shape, flavour, tenderness and appearance through a variety of different cooking methods including the microwave, oven, grill and of course bbq.”

There is a definite movement in the UK towards inns offering more bar premium bar snacks, he says. “Innovation in the UK pub snack industry has been stagnant for a long time. Just the past year has seen a signifiant number of new entrants to the market and wholesalers are now contacting us looking for a more premium offering.”

Premium bars have from time to time been known to offer customers free snacks to entice them in for a pre-Sunday lunch snifter. But Searle says he does not think that culturally this is something that the UK will ever do on a significant scale. “It is common place on the continent, but the UK pub industry hasn’t really embraced this.

“Perhaps leftovers from the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon you can find, but that’s about it. There seems to be some kind of resistance to appreciating that snacks will keep customers in and drinking and free snacks will only amplify that. That said, British charcuterie is expensive and so hard to justify giving away for free,” he says.

Consumers are tired of traditional snacks that lack in flavour and innovation, he says. “Compared with 10 years consumers are drinker better beer in better environments and want a better snack to enjoy in that space.

“Among those prepared to recognise the divergence of taste and flavour in the British bar snack world is The Curators, which is described as being “all about the creativity of flavour and meat is a fantastic canvass for big bold taste”.

She says the market for this kind of bar snack is definitely growing. “In 2016, jerky was the fastest growing sector within the £132m UK meat snack category, +16% RSV (versus 3% total category).  Snacking is a multi-billion pound sector with healthy options and the natural protein trend driving growth.”Marketing executive Becky Haseldine tells Innkeeper Magazine: “We use chef-made marinades and rubs for a hit of flavour, and we make our jerky with the best quality British beef. Using our unique cooking process are able to maintain a soft, tender chew – unlike a lot tough, chewy product on the market currently.”

Classic flavours will always be around and, especially in snacking, driving a lot of sales, she says. “Who doesn’t love a great Cheese and Onion crisp? But consumers are demanding more from brands in terms of excitement, provenance and, importantly, flavour. You only have to look at the craft beer market to see how that is taking hold with sours, fruit beers and even coffee porters becoming en vogue.”

Consumers are increasingly looking for premium and better-for-you options in all the places they want to hang out, she says. “Whilst the bar or pub is never going to be a haven of health it is important that operators evolve their snack offering to meet the demanding tastes of modern consumers. Like the craft beers phenomenon we believe there is a big market for premium bar snacks with craft credentials. As tasty as they are, basic crisps and nuts are just not enough to have in the offer,” she says.

While some premium bars offer customers free snacks these days in some high end environments, it’s a big trend in the mainstream, she say. “Consumers are, on the whole, happy to pay good money for good products,” she says.

Consumers’ taste for bar snacks is changing with a demand for big flavour, more variety, more interesting world food trends and products outside of standard crisps and nuts, she adds.

“We are focused on venues that have customers who love great tasting food and beer and the offering in the outlet reflects that. Pubs, inns, bars, hotels – are all relevant. We don’t really have a profile for where that is as it should be. Great taste is a national right!” she says.

Snaffling Pig founder and CEO Nick Coleman says that while much research suggests snacking is an ingrained habit but health concerns, it means more of us are cutting back on snacks. “So, when we do snack, it has got to be worth the calories,” he says. “It’s this change in behaviour that’s led to the trend in indulgence and premiumisation. We’re also seeing a return to recessionary behaviours, with people opting to stay in rather than go out.”

All in the presentation

Bar snacks can be deployed on occasions such as wedding receptions being held in bars and inns. It’s all very well selecting the right snacks for your target audience, but presentation becomes more important the higher the level of quality of snack or hor d’oeuvres being served.

Opening for business this summer is Middle-sex-based Whizcraft, which deems itself “synonymous with quality, craftsmanship and innovation”. It creates  a wide range of presentation dishes and mini trays and other serving apparatus that enhance the appearance and sense of premium concerning the food concerned. “We endeavour to deliver unique products that we

design and develop in consultation with some of the most experienced personnel in the hospitality industry,” says a company spokesman.

“We like to welcome ideas to bespoke crockery and metal-ware for your exquisite food presentation,” he explains.

The “Big Night In” is a trend that keeps growing, he says. “When customers do venture out, they want to try snacks that aren’t available in the supermarkets, but create that indulgent, treat experience. The quality and price of the snacks need to be in line with the price of drinks too. So in the more craft-led pubs, you’ll see a lot more artisan- led snacks, like biltong.”

He says: “I love the culture in mainland Europe when you order a drink and are given a bowl of snacks to go alongside it. The US does the same. It’s not something we are seeing here but it really does offer a much better customer experience. It’s a simple way that bars and operators can create a point of difference. I’m hoping more pubs will start taking it up. Pubs have to offer consumers a better experience than they can get at home.”

Despite all the weird and wonderful snacks and flavours in the market, he insists customers still stick to the popular favourites of crisps, nuts, pork scratchings. “Within this bar call, the classic salted and chilli will still command 75% of the sales,” he says.

Snaffling Pig isn’t focussed on any age bracket or demographic, he says, but more on a way of life.” Our customers are 18-81 – it doesn’t matter as long as you love to live life and revel in a cheeky indulgence.”

Snaffling Pig produces high quality ingredients matched with great tasting flavours within innovative formats and serve experiences, he says.

“The overall snacks category is relatively static however porky snacks are growing at 20% year on year. Although a large chunk of our business sup- ports the on-trade channel we also have a range of gifts and advent calendars and we’ve seen phenom- enal growth in this area. 2018 is a big year for the range too as we will be expanding our nut products with a new range of single serve foil bags launching back end of the summer,” he concludes.


This feature was first published in the Apr/May 2018 Issue of InnKeeper Magazine