While potato and corn remain towering giants in the grocery-store chip aisle, shoppers seeking a different kind of crunch will find more than just SunChips to choose from these day. Now that other vegetables and pitas have been embraced by chip-hungry snackers, companies are testing the appetite for even more unorthodox crispy substances, including egg white, chickpeas, and fruit.
“Consumers are very interested in alternatives to white potato chips,” says Jared Simon, category manager for snacks at the Hain Celestial Group. The company owns Terra Chips—a brand of high-end chips made with root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, taro root, yucca, batata, parsnips, and beets—and Sensible Portions, which makes Veggie Straws and Apple Straws. Sales have grown to $100 million since Terra was launched in 1990, and the company describes itself as the largest vegetable chip brand in the natural snacks category. During a recent conference call, a Hain Celestial president bragged that the company’s sweet potato snack is “on fire,” and Simon suggests the orange spud has been embraced by those seeking a healthier alternative to classic potato chips.
The overall chip market remains strong as it becomes more diverse. Data from Euromonitor show that retail sales of all potato and vegetable chips, processed crisps, and tortilla chips in the U.S. grew to $18.4 billion last year, up from $16.5 billion in 2008. “Vegetable crisps have been around for a while, but they were niche. You might see them at Trader Joe’s,” says Matt Hudak, a Euromonitor research analyst. “There is more mainstream acceptance recently.”
Take Frito-Lay: In North America last year, the company reported a “low-single-digit decline” in volume sales of Lay’s and a mid-single-digit decline in Tostitos. U.S. sales of its Stacy’s pita chips, on the other hand, grew by about 20 percent in 2012, according to Euromonitor data. Competition has already hurt some existing alterna-chip brands. Sales of multigrain SunChips, launched in 1991, have been falling for for the past few years and fell by double-digits in 2012. Here’s a look at some unfamiliar products taking a stab at the chip market:
• Egg white chips: These puffed snacks do, in fact, taste a bit like egg. Each serving of Ips egg white chips, which are made with egg whites and corn, contains 7g of protein—about as much as one egg.
• “Hummus” chips: Kashi’s new chips, made with chickpeas and whole grains, have 4g of fiber and 4g of protein.
• Soy chips: A review on the back of a bag of Glenny’s Multigrain Soy Crisps reads, “Even better than potato chips. Delicious!” Each bag has 6g of protein.
• Seaweed chips: Natural Garden bills its Healthy Seaweed Snacks as “the healthy alternative to chips,” with vitamins, minerals, magnesium, and antioxidants.
• Snap pea crisps: Japanese company Calbee makes Snapea Crisps, available at such retailers as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and Safeway.