Crisp sales feel the crunch from healthier eating

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A century after Frank Smith hit on a lucrative sideline by hawking his "ultra-thin chips" in the pubs of Cricklewood, it seems the British are finally falling out of love with the crisp.

A century after Frank Smith hit on a lucrative sideline by hawking his "ultra-thin chips" in the pubs of Cricklewood, it seems the British are finally falling out of love with the crisp.

Chastened by booming obesity rates and seduced by worthy alternatives from dried mango to organic almonds, consumers will eat 38,000 tons of crisps and savoury snacks less this year than they did in 2002.

Research published today found sales across the sector have fallen by 12 per cent in the past three years, representing a £200m decline in the value of the market to £2.2bn.

Ever since Smith, an enterprising north London grocer, started the famous crisp company that bore his name and sold his product with a blue paper wrap of salt, Britons have been in thrall to the fried potato snack. Each adult in the UK eats 7.2kg of crisps a year, the highest consumption in Europe. Italy, by contrast, munches its way through just 1kg per person.

But analysts at the market research company Mintel said the falling sales in Britain presaged a "persistent decline" in demand for salty snacks that will last for several years amid changing eating habits and increased competition from products such as cereal bars and dried fruit.

David Bird, the author of the report, said: "Crisps and savoury snacks in particular have a real image problem. They are generally perceived as being predominantly high-fat, high-salt foods with comparatively few nutritional benefits."

Despite the efforts of manufacturers to introduce healthier products such as rice-based snacks, consumers are refusing to be lured by so-called low-fat alternatives to the crisp.

Some 26 per cent of Britons do not believe claims that the pan-fried contents of their packets are low-fat or low-calorie and prefer to ignore the titbits altogether.

Mr Bird said: "Consumers see crisps as an unhealthy product and if they are dieting or adopting a healthier eating regime, they will avoid crisps completely rather than buying a healthy variant."

A separate report by the research company TNS found that the sale of nuts has increased by 11.6 per cent in a year. The study found that Britons, one in five of whom are now classified as obese, are taking advice from nutritionists that nuts are a rich source of fatty acids, protein and minerals such as selenium, phosphorus and zinc.

In an attempt to lure back customers, crisp and snack companies are developing ranges with added ingredients such as vitamins, Omega-3 and cholesterol-lowering plant extracts.

The glory days

* A Native American chef called George Crum invented the fried delicacy by accident in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1853. Mr Crum sliced potatoes very thinly, cooked them until shrivelled and doused them in salt to make them inedible, in order to annoy a complaining customer. The customer loved them and'Saratoga Chips' were born.

* In 1900, Frank Smith, a north London grocer, liked a crunchy potato snack being eaten by delivery men from France so much he created his own version, selling the product in pubs in Cricklewood.

* In 1953 an Irish manufacturer, Tayto, perfected the first method for making flavoured crisps, licensed it and sold the technology to the world.

* On average, Britons eat 372 snacks a year.