Ingredient diversity—combined with creative died and a revival of extrusion technology—has injected a strong level of innovation into the extruded snack world of late.

The extruded snacks market has expanded in recent years. Innovative twin-screw extrusion barrel and die designs, along with a revitalized approach to co-extrusion, have helped bring a wide range of new products onto the market to join the ranks of well-known category staples. Just look at what Frito-Lay has done with its Doritos Jacked 3D products to get an idea of how far we’ve begun to push the extruded snack envelope in terms of shape creativity.

Consumers and snack manufacturers have also begun showing interest in more-sophisticated products like co-extruded (filled) snacks. In the breakfast cereal category (products that also often find themselves consumed as snacks…), Kellogg’s Krave is a perfect example.

Given the range of potential ingredient and technological diversity, manufacturers can effectively blur preconceived distinctions between snacks, cookies, crackers, cereals and more, thereby opening up a wider range of eating opportunities for the products throughout the day—and a greater diversity of merchandising platforms at the retail level.

“Better-for-you” snacking holds great promise in the coming years. I’ve begun seeing a notable better-for-you segment emerge within extrusion, with nutritionally oriented substrates going into the mix—ingredients like beans and peas that have a strong nutritional label presence and are also gluten-free, to boot (a segment that continues to grow). Manufacturers have reported few problems with the addition of these ingredients to the extrusion mix, clearing any technical hurdles by adjusting screw configuration and speed, and injecting liquids or steam, for instance.

The substrate and processing technique dictate where a product exists on the nutritional spectrum. While third-generation (3G) “half products” are nothing new, they’ve gained a stronger foothold of late. I’m starting to see more ingredient diversity going into these extruded pellets, which are subsequently puffed, popped or fried. Popped chips, crackers and other snacks are gaining a following through use of interesting substrates that include sweet potato, various seeds, etc., and extrusion techniques and offer truly original eating experiences.

Of course, every trend has its associated counter-trend, and in the extruded world, the counter-trend to these better-for-you moves is outright (poppable) indulgence. I’ve seen the popularity of “hulless popcorn” rise over the past year, products often dipped in chocolate and other decadent coatings and drizzles. These are basically extruded corn puffs, and when accented with chocolate or caramel, they become downright addictive. Utz Puff’n Corn is a great example here. Pop Stoppers, a brand-new product, also defines this segment, with corn puffs coated with chocolate (dark, milk or white) or peanut butter and accented with a touch of sea salt.

Pop stopper lineup
Photo courtesy of Sir Charles LLC

With the resources available today, manufacturers of extruded snacks have an unprecedented level of opportunity to break new ground and truly create something new.