Hershey has made some successful moves in the snacking category over the past five years. In 2017, the company acquired Amplify Snack Brands and its portfolio, which included SkinnyPop popcorn, Paqui tortilla chips, and Tyrrells potato chips.
In 2018, Hershey purchased Pirate's Booty from B&G Foods. And in November 2021, the company made its second biggest purchase with the acquisition of Dot's Homestyle Pretzels and Pretzels Inc., the fastest growing pretzel brand in the US, for $1.2bn.
"The Amplify acquisition was a major success, it’s provided a growth template for other brands. The success of SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty has helped identify and understand what size a brand needs to be for us to bring our capabilities of scale in the best way," Scott told FoodNavigator-USA during the 2022 Sweets & Snacks Expo held in Chicago last week, adding that its core strength is in expanding distribution of its newly acquired brands.
"You can take a brand like SkinnyPop that was once a $10m brand and turn it into a $1bn brand because we have access to some of those large retailers, but the brand has to be able to stand on its own too."
However, not every deal has been a slam dunk for Hershey. After acquiring KRAVE Jerky for $218m in 2015, the brand seemed to become lost in the larger corporate umbrella until it was sold back to a vehicle run by founder Jon Sebastiani in 2020.
"We’re not great at a super small new startup, we need a brand to have a little bit of traction in order to scale and for us to be able to engage with them in a way that’s really meaningful and bring our value proposition to the table," said Scott.
Three snacking P's: Popcorn, puffs, and pretzels
With the acquisition of Dot's, said Scott, Hershey has found its rightful place in the salty snacks landscape, focusing on three core areas where it knows it can thrive and dominate the market.
"We like to think of the three P's: pretzels, puffs, and popcorn. There’s a lot of similarity between the three [categories]. At their core, they’re simple products and their growth is from doing one thing very well," said Scott.
Since falling under Hershey's domain, the company has been careful not to deviate too far from the original product of each brand and instead take a deep dive into the consumer purchase drivers.
"We work very hard to know who the consumer is, know them well, know what it is that they love about SkinnyPop and do that really well. It’s not changing the fundamental product but enhancing it," noted Scott.
Featured at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, was SkinnyPop Extra, a new sub-line of flavors for the brand including Cream Parmesan Garlic and Spicy Chili Lime. Similarly, Pirate's Booty launched its Crunch Attack product featuring a crunchier texture for consumers and a new Spicy Nacho flavor.
"At the end of the day, if it tastes good, and you can have not a lot of guilt associated with it, that’s a win. We used to lean into a lit bit harder into the health benefit, but people really just liked how it tasted and that it was guilt free."
Similarly, with Dot's, the brand offered consumers the same familiar feel of pretzels but with an updated spin on flavors not seen in the broader pretzel category.
"The pretzel category had not had significant innovation in a while and then Dot's came in with flavored pretzels and that was really the appeal for the core pretzel consumer," added Scott.
Salty snacks brand performance
In terms of brand performance at retail, Hershey's US salty snacks portfolio, including Dot's, in MULO+C increased 36.7% in the 12-week period ended April 17, 2022 (Q1 2022). SkinnyPop experienced 13.4% retail sales growth gaining 60 basis points of the ready-to-eat popcorn market share in Q1 2022 and Pirate's Booty saw retail sales climb 55.4% for the quarter benefiting from consumers seeking permissibility and convenience as they return to their pre-pandemic routines, commented Hershey in its latest earnings report.
Meanwhile, Dot's recorded 103% growth in retail sales benefiting from a significant bump to its distribution and now holds a 17% share of the total pretzel category in the latest 12-week period, reported Hershey.
'We have ambitions to become a snacking powerhouse'
Asked about future acquisitions into other salty snack categories (another try at jerky for instance), Scott said that having a strong hold and growing its presence in three of the five major salty snacks categories puts the company in a strong position moving forward and that other areas of the snacking universe were still on the table.
"We have ambitions to become a snacking powerhouse, and we’ll continue to investigate opportunities where we can think we can do well."