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Spicy snacks are hot with younger consumers.

Salty snack foods are a fan favorite, with other flavor profiles – including spicy snacks – trailing behind. The vast majority (86%) of packaged snack food buyers currently buy salty snacks, compared to 62% that buy sweet snacks and only 52% that buy hot snacks. Younger adults drive spicy flavor purchases, with 69% of Millennials and 73% of Gen Z buying spicy snacks for themselves or someone in their household.

Spicy snacks are primarily a personal purchase.

It’s most common for adults buying hot snacks to be purchasing for themselves (83%) as opposed to someone else. Children under the age of 13 are the least likely consumer, with only 21% of adults purchasing spicy snacks for kids in their household. It’s worth noting that, compared to all US adults, Millennials are significantly more likely to buy hot snacks for a child under the age of 13 (31% of Millennials vs 21% of US adults). While it’s true that Millennial parents are more likely to have children under the age of 13 than parents of other generations, their propensity toward spicy snacks indicates that they may be passing their tastes along to their kids too. As a result, there could be an opportunity for brands to reach young families.

The pandemic hasn’t significantly shifted purchasing habits.

Spicy snacks are seemingly immune to pandemic-related fluctuations in grocery shopping and snacking habits. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, two-thirds of US adults purchased spicy snacks at least several times a month – and this has held consistent over the past year. This bodes well for snack manufacturers in a post-pandemic world, as they’ll likely see steady sales even as consumers’ grocery shopping habits normalize.

What’s next for spicy snacks?

Catching consumers’ eye on the crowded grocery store shelves is a challenge, particularly for spicy snack manufacturers. Compared to more traditional flavor profiles (e.g., salty, sweet), demand is low. Most US adults (63%) can confirm that their favorite snack foods already have spicy flavors available – and this increases to at least 75% among Millennials and Gen Z, the biggest spicy snack buyers. At the same time, interest in hot flavors among those without an existing option from favorite snack food manufacturers is limited. Only 24% would want a spicy flavor to be offered.

While the audience for spicy snacks may be getting stretched thin, the potential for manufacturers to break into the space is still there – with a potential caveat. When polled about purchase likelihood across major snack food brands, US adults largely expressed the most interest in spicy options from top chip brands compared to other snack foods (i.e. crackers, popcorn). Consumers were most likely to consider purchasing spicy offerings from Lays (72%), Ruffles (66%), and Pringles (65%).

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Adweek during April 20-22, 2021, among 1,084 U.S. adults ages 18 and older with additional branding insights provided by Harris Brand Platform. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

Download the full data tables here.

Matthew Feider

Author Matthew Feider

Matthew is the Chief of Staff of The Harris Poll. In addition to supporting the CEO Will Johnson, he leads the internal marketing team, investor relations, and executive communications. As the leader of the marketing department, Matthew has developed exclusive polling partnerships with Ad Age, AdWeek, Morning Brew, Fast Company, TIME, and Yahoo Finance. Prior to joining Harris last year, Matthew helped build the venture valuation business unit at Carta. He is currently an MBA candidate at The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

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