Savoury snacks consumption has been forecast to grow by nearly 50 per cent in the Czech Republic up to 2008, and predictions are lower yet steady for Poland and Hungary where snacking will rise by around 30 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, according to a report by market researchers Datamonitor.
John Band, market analyst with Datamonitor, said a main factor was simply that many ex-Soviet states were "seeing a significant rise in disposable income", yet he also pointed to the fast-living lifestyles of those working in the cities who have become increasingly prone to desk lunches and eating on the move.
A report by the Czech Statistical Office says that Czechs work an average of 42 hours per week, five hours higher than the European average, and a report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions puts Poles and Hungarians not far behind on 40 hours per week.
The need for convenience is manifested in the launch of several energy and nutrition bars in all three countries over the last three months, including French firm Danone's Petitki Wafelki 'wafel bar' in Poland and Nestlé's Sveltesse sour cherry cereal bar in Hungary.
Band also said the snacking trend in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic was similar to that of convenience snacking in the UK, also renowned for long working hours and officially the snack capital of Europe. He said that as a result these countries were mirroring the UK in its dynamic range of flavoured snacks.
"The breadth of flavours available has shown enormous growth in recent years. Many flavours resemble the kind of stuff you can get on the UK market but at the same time there are the traditional local snacks," said band.
The last three months have seen toffee maize chips, green onion potato chips and butter flavour corn chips launched in Poland as well as four season potato chips and cheese and bacon maize snacks in Hungary.
There have also been cheese flavour bake bars, garlic and parsley croutons and Mexican chilli potato chips in the Czech Republic.
Much of these markets is carved up between multinationals; PepsiCo, mainly through its Frito-Lay subsidiary, has the biggest value share in Poland at 33 per cent and is number two in Hungary with 8 per cent, whilst German firm Intersnack Knabber-Geback is number one in Poland and Hungary as well as third in the Czech Republic.
Band said that multinational domination was likely to continue after the meteoric rise of large hypermarkets owned by multinational companies like UK-based Tesco and France-based Carrefour, especially in Poland and the Czech Republic. "These countries are now amongst the most supermarket-dependent in the world," he said.
Band predicted limited growth in premium snack sectors through the popularity of products such as chocolate-coated nuts, but overall Datamonitor has forecast growth across the board for the Hungarian, Czech and Polish snack markets. Potato chips are the leaders with a forecast 25-30 per cent average rise in consumption up to 2008.
Snack market value in the Czech Republic is forecast to rise from $187 million (€143 million) to $260 million, compared to growth from $196 million to $282 million in Hungary and an increase from $339 million to $393 million in Poland.