Snacks & Candy

Understanding the Salty Snacker

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Salty snack sales at convenience stores are booming. Christopher Ferro, Director of Small Format Sales for Amplify, which was acquired by The Hershey Company in 2017, talks about the drivers for growth and the role salty snacks play across occasions.


How has the salty snack category in c-stores evolved over the last few years?

The demand for sweet and savory snacks increased during the pandemic and continues to remain strong while we saw a bit of a dip in better-for-you products as shoppers opted for snacks with greater permissibility. Today’s consumers are looking for empowered social snacking occasions with diverse and elevated flavor experiences as they balance both health and enjoyment.

The c-store channel is dynamic. It’s transient and easily affected by temporary influences including increases in gas prices, but data for the last 12 months shows strong consistent growth for salty snacks. For example, according to IRI data for the week ending 09-11-22, in the last six months, salty snack sales in c-stores have increased by 18.4% with tortilla chips, pretzels and read-to-eat popcorn experiencing significant growth.

The current environment will continue to change the dynamics, but I expect both positive and negative factors to affect in-store sales. Inflation, specifically in gasoline prices, is a concern for shoppers and can change their buying habits, but we’re also seeing a huge uptick in travel that is driving increased traffic at c-stores. We are leveraging market data to help us understand how the channel is evolving and adjusting our in-store strategies to meet the changing consumer needs.


What are consumers craving? What’s driving the marketplace?

Two flavor profiles resonate strongly with the c-store shopper: indulgent and spicy. Sweet and spicy flavors play well into our current salty snack portfolio and also make us consider how to weave bolder flavors into future offerings across the better-for-you, permissible snacking and indulgent categories.

We want our brands to grow with our consumers too. For example, we launched Pirate’s Booty Cheddar Blast to give a bolder flavor option to teens and young adults who enjoyed eating the original Pirate’s Booty flavor as a child.


Talk about salty snacking occasions.

For a brand like SkinnyPop Popcorn, the use occasion is centered on consumers looking to fuel their day. Food service at c-stores is also experiencing a boom and bringing salty snacks along for the ride. During the lunch hour, shoppers are grabbing a salty snack along with their favorite sandwich and beverage. Salty snacks also perform well in the late afternoon as people look to curb their hunger in between meals or grab a snack to give to their kids after school.

During the pandemic, we saw a change in what pack sizes consumers preferred too. Instant consumables or the traditional grab n’ go bag have always been a staple at c-stores, but we saw a significant boost in demand for larger bags for brands like SkinnyPop Popcorn. People grabbed the larger bags to avoid having to stop at another store and increase their risk of exposure to COVID-19. And as families spent more time at home, the big bags fueled family movie and game nights. We have even seen some retailers dedicating space for larger pack size to capture the same shopping occasions that a grocery store would offer. Inflation may impact the demand for those bigger bags over time, but for now, we recommend retailers carry both sizes, and our research shows that there are different consumers for each size.


What’s ahead?

As we become a leading snacking powerhouse, we see great growth potential in our pretzels, popcorn and puffs offerings along with the sweet snacks Hershey also provides. For salty snacks specifically, I would expect to see innovation that embraces the flavor profiles c-stores customers crave to drive both purchase intent and brand loyalty.

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This post is sponsored by The Hershey Company


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