UK Snacking Innovation: Five trend focus areas for 2023/24 product development

Insights Lab explores the ongoing evolution of modern snacking trends in the UK, highlighting five potential hotspots for product innovation for food teams going into 2024

A collection of snacks
Over the past few years, the concept of snacking has evolved as younger consumers banish old mealtime norms in favour of quick, flavourful and affordable options, enjoyed throughout the day.

Innovators are wasting no time in revolutionising classic snacking options to meet demand, with snack positioning now a complicated equation that spans multiple demographics and need states, from early risers and on-the-go lunch seekers, to dinnertime 'grazers' and those hunting elements of healthy eating in small, regular doses.

And while retail and D2C are the more obvious battlegrounds for UK brands, hospitality operators are increasingly adopting the 'snack' concept on menus - certainly in terms of language - with one-to-two bite dish innovation diversifying.

As mentioned, younger consumers are the driving force behind ongoing snacking trends, both in the UK and the US, with the digitally-native Gen Z and Gen Alpha (the latter now incoming from a purchasing power perspective) paving the way for new and existing brands to discover broad e-commerce possibilities with snacks far beyond the supermarket shelf.

Millennials are also a key part of the 'snackification' of mealtimes, either by leading new family eating norms beyond the 'three square meals-a-day' approach, or through demand for on-the-go options during the week, born (in part) via flexible working concepts post-Covid.

It's clear that snacking will continue to play a leading role for consumers in 2024, with innovators pushing boundaries not only with existing formats and styles, but with the fundamentals of what exactly constitutes a 'snack' food.

Here, we discuss five focus areas for snacking innovation in 2024, spotlighting trailblazers and noteworthy concepts from both the UK and US, and offering action points for developers looking ahead to next year.

Disruptive Snacking Brand ID
Firstly, in retail (and in digitally adjacent sectors); innovator snack brands are united in a common goal to revolutionise the look, feel and style of options, pushing possibilities in all aspects of product and packaging development to create eye-catching concepts that appeal to the change-making younger generations.

Seen both in the US and the UK, traditional snacking product styles are being challenged and/or revamped, from the likes of crisps, nuts and sweets, to all manner of snack bars and healthy bites.

Our parent food development agency, Egg Soldiers, places huge emphasis on the importance of a defined food ID when working with clients, and the point here is that disruptive snacking brands are nailing their respective IDs in the pursuit of success.

They're working with branding agencies and designers to create retro and/or minimalist packaging that just pops off the shelf; they're developing leaner ingredient decks with artisanal components; they're dabbling with previously unseen flavour profiles, regularly collaborating with like-minded F&B brands, and going wild on socials with dynamic marketing campaigns; and many are launching with targeted sustainability credentials that immediately elevate not only overall product, but the brand itself.

SMUG, for example - the new UK crisps disruptor - launched in the summer with 100% compostable packaging, with its first flavour being cacio e pepe, and its branding as simple-yet-eye-catching as they come.

And in the US, we're big fans of HEY CHAMP - a new brand pushing 'chef-made' artisan chocolate bars in recyclable packaging boasting boldly minimalist designs, with launch flavours including brown butter rice krispie with miso caramel and dark milk chocolate; and pretzel shortbread with salted caramel and dark milk chocolate.

Street Food Snacks
Street food trends continue to shape foodie culture across the UK, with consumer interest in convenient, flavourful, globally-inspired eating options lonly increasing.

Snacking is very much a part of the overall street food concept, with on-the-go light bites in convenient formats seen across cuisines. And the influx of street food operators (and indeed operations) in UK cities is making life so much more simple for time-poor consumers to find flavourful snacking options to tide them over, be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

With snacking now so engrained in daily life, and globally-inspired street food continuing to make waves across demographics; we expect further merging between the two concepts in the minds of consumers in 2024, with both foodservice and retail brands to harness authentic street food formats to deliver convenient, on-the-go snacking innovation.

For example, in the US, Fillo's Walking Tamales range is a perfect marriage of snacking and street food, with the ready-to-eat Latin food brand taking the traditional Mexican street food, tamales, to new, CPG-centric heights as a corn bar for myriad snacking occasions.

Meanwhile, in London's famous Brick Lane, Indegno launched only this month, with the Italian street food snack shop offering authentic 'Crescentina' - a snack from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. This is Bolognese street food, with the brand's 'Indegna' hero option a fried dough crescent filled with mortadella and Parmesan cream.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

'Snacks' - the Restaurant Edition
As menu language, 'snacks' is becoming a section in its own right in many UK restaurants. And it's more than just a trendy way of naming bread and olives.

In a growing number of notable spots, the snacks section is becoming a hotbed for flavour innovation driven by choice and affordability. The small nature of these snacks allows chefs to change up combos weekly, keeping options fresh and interest high.

Bar snack concepts are also being taken to new levels, with some options seeming as though plucked straight from a tasting menu, giving diners hunting small snacks a mouth-watering choice of potential singular options.

Effectively, the one-to-two bite dish is breaking free of the shackles of higher-end dining, with chef innovators packing huge amounts of flavour into small bites, elevating tired bar snack norms, and broadening choice beyond the 'small plate' and tapas-style dining concepts.

A good example of this is at Exhibition in Manchester, which houses three kitchens serving one restaurant. All three serve up snacks, such as Osma's weekly-changing brioche toast (this week with chicken liver parfait, lingonberry jam and sage); Baratxuri's choux buñuelos with Cornish crab aioli and saffron; and Sud's Cetara Amalfi anchovies with Calabrian chilli, zest and EVO.

Last month at The Pilgrm Hotel, meanwhile, three renowned chefs were pitted against one another in what was named 'The Snack Off', with Chef Scully of Scully St. James's beef cheek rendang nuggets, and Mambow's chef Abby's deep-fried sardine curry puffs catching the eye.

Nostalgia-Fuelled Healthy Snacking
In times of crisis (financial or otherwise), nostalgic food and drink win big. From the comfort of childhood classics to moments of indulgent escapism; nostalgia brilliantly connects consumable to consumer, with many relationships naturally standing the test of time.

Healthy eating, meanwhile, remains a key concern across demographics, with nutrition, gut-health, and cleaner decks among the many focus areas.

So how about combining the two? Not a simple equation, granted, but one that snacking innovators are skilfully solving, particularly in the US.

Format is key here. Nostalgia is, for a great many, not a term often used in the same sentence as the word 'health'. But take US brand Chewsy and its range of fruity chews - a confectionary style loved all over the world - with targeted health benefits.

Chewsy's Peaceful Sleep chews, for example, boast melatonin, L-theanine, chamomile, lemon balm, and magnolia. Imagine Chewits, but actively good for you.

Other good examples include Chubby Snacks (US) and its range of "superfood PB&J's"; the nostalgia-driven Magic Spoon (US) and its new better-for-you, protein-packed cereal bars; and Sourse (US) and it's vitamin-infused chocolates that scream M&M's.
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Pushing on with Protein
It's no secret that protein is a big draw for consumers when it comes to snacking.

Here in the UK, we're now one year on from the rolling out of HFSS laws last October, and brands are finding favour with indulgent, high-protein, low-sugar options, with protein snack bars particularly popular.

Going into 2024, we see a potential opportunity with diversified protein-led snacking innovation as a way of providing health-savvy consumers options beyond the increasingly common snack bar.

We've recently seen some interesting protein-rich, low-fat jerky launches, both in the UK and across the pond, with both meat and meat-free options a potential health-forward route for brands pushing both at-home and on-the-go snacking benefits.

Recent spots include Meati's (US) new mycelium-based jerky range, with each 60g pack delivering 15g of protein and just 1.5g of total fats; and UK brand Arrogant Chicken's global flavour-inspired range of crispy chicken jerky (as seen as this year's Speciality & Fine Food Fair), each of which provides 23g of protein and under 2g of fat per 30g pouch.
UK snacking action points 2023/24
  • Retro Packaging Riffs
    There's emotion in snacking, and brands can evoke feelings of nostalgia and escapism with retro packaging designs, with colour palettes and iconography key focus areas.

    Look to 'groovy' and peaceful 60s vibes, consider psychedelic 70s, go neon with 80s, or full Millennial nostalgia with classic 90s looks and style.
  • Breakfast & Beyond
    Breakfast skipping was previously seen to be a daily 'incident' for consumers.

    But with modern snacking trends changing the way people view mealtimes, there is an opportunity for developers to broaden UK breakfast snack choices as a way of introducing newness for time-poor early risers.

    Breakfast bars, porridge snack pots, yoghurt pouches, and protein drinks are among the leading on-the-go styles, with Insights Lab now exploring new, health-forward product possibilities, with convenience and flavour front and centre.
  • Functional Futures
    Functional snacking continues to grow in stature, with brands pushing myriad health benefits across an ever-expanding range of product formats.

    Age-specific snacking solutions could be a promising route to explore for brands in 2024, such as fortifying classic kids school options with functional formulations that deliver gut- and brain-health benefits, as well as fibre and protein.

    Snacking solutions that promote 'healthy ageing' could also be one-to-watch, with joint pain, cognition, and hydration all common needs for older consumers.
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