Snacks have had to weather a
number of storms in recent years, taking it on the chin from the health lobby when it came to salt, fat, sugar, additives - and now the sector is up against a new threat in the shape of the Scottish government.
Not only is the category having to deal with the obesity debate, it is now in the shadow of the binge-drinking lobby following last year's announcement by Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill of plans to outlaw multibuys and secondary siting of alcohol to discourage excessive drinking in the country.
Scheduled to come into effect from 2009, the plans would require stores to introduce "a specific display area" for alcohol and MacAskill said they would "stop shops displaying beer all around the store or cross-merchandising wine
to entice impulse buyers ".
Given that the trend
currently is to encourage people to eat when they drink, the plan to isolate alcohol would seem to be at odds with responsible drinking messages.
A consultation on England's alcohol strategy is scheduled for November and the likelihood is
it will ape what is going on in Scotland,
just as the smoking ban was adopted in England and Wales after Scotland. It will look at price, promotions , harm, labelling and self-regulation.
So what would the introduction of such severe measures mean for snacks and retailers?
Louise Smith, who runs the Jug & Bottle in Bubwith, Yorkshire, is scathing of Scotland's plans. "Some independents and supermarkets do food match - obviously to sell more products, but also in an educational way. This will be lost," she says.
"How will we get on at Christmas with brandy butter,
Christmas puddings, port and stilton? And what about
crisps such as Burt s Bloody Mary chips?" As to whether th is would have the desired effect and reduce binge-drinking, she doesn't think
it will "in the slightest".
And she doesn't anticipate such measures would make a difference to sales of alcohol. "The people the government are on a mission to save are young people who just want to get drunk. When has anyone had young people in their shop buying cider or lager to get drunk and the youngsters thrown in a bag of peanuts or crisps as an afterthought? Food and alcohol is getting so expensive I think the youngsters will be ploughing all their money into buying alcohol."
But the binge-drinking message is also tying into the ongoing health concerns that have seen manufacturers focus on providing
healthier option s.
Guilty by association
Traditionally, crisps and nuts have been associated with beer - they're the ultimate pub snack that translates into the home occasion.
And recent moves by the likes of Diageo, Gallo and S&N to actively cross-promote drinks and snacks prove their status as bedfellows.
So if that association is coming under threat, retailers should maybe concentrate more on "healthier indulgence" and take advantage of the latest offerings from an increasingly innovative industry.
Kettle Chips trumpets
its "all-natural" ingredients on a range
that has recently seen the addition of Roast Chicken with Rosemary & Thyme, Honey Barbecue, Sweet Chilli and Sour Cream & Chive.
The company cites Nielsen figures to Feb 23 2008
the premium crisp market growing at 22.6% - ahead of the total £1.97 billion market, which grew 5% in the year to January - and point s out consumer trends are towards
Rival brand Burts trades on the slogan Real Food - Rustic, Crunchy and Full of Flavour, and its line-up includes a no-salt version and one made with parsnips ,
flavoured with parmesan.
These new pretenders are a far cry from the
Onion staples of the traditional Walkers range - but even these are now barely recognisable as the products they were even a few years ago. Walkers
crisps, Sensations and Doritos are
now cooked in
said to have reduced saturated fat in its crisps by up to 80% compared with 2003. And the company has a wholegrain snack in SunBites.
UBUK has also been working along similar lines, reducing the levels of saturated fat in Hula Hoops and Hula Hoops Ridges by 55% and introducing the healthier Hula Hoops Multigrain.
are upping their game. UBUK this year launched the Baked & Seasoned range, containing no artificial colours or flavours, to appeal to "younger adults prepared to pay more ".
As the nature of snacks changes, so too does their relationship with alcohol. But while the Scottish measures might see a physical distancing of the two sectors, the snacks market looks like it might be able to cash in on food and drink matching at least for the near future. With crisps now available in a plethora of exotic flavours , retailers could do worse than make the most of the time
left to suggest drink and snack -matching tasting notes.