There is a snack out there suitable for everyone - it's just a matter of spotting it behind the bar
I fear that confidence in this great country of ours is beginning to waver. A dilapidated rail network, nationwide flooding, the appointment of a foreigner to manage our sacred national football team and the inability of the Queen Mum to stay on her feet have recently raised doubts over the true state of our nation.
In an attempt to restore that warm glow of patriotism and pride within the hearts and souls of our citizens, I feel I must offer a sole word of comfort.
Nuts! And while we're at it, crisps. Yes, when it comes to sheer variety and innovation in savoury snacks no other country comes close. The dazzling array of snack selections available on these shores has become the envy of our continental counterparts. And jealousy is indeed an ugly thing! Several years ago, bored of their deluxe Leonidas praline chocolates and plain flavoured potato chips, those pen-pushing Brussels-based Eurocrats tried to ban established household names like prawn cocktail crisps on the wafer-thin basis that no prawns were involved in any way, shape or form.
Needless to say, national uproar nipped that one in the bud and the eclectic world of snacks continued to grow. Ten years ago, pub snacks consisted of three types of crisps, two nuts and perhaps a packet of pork scratchings - if the publican was feeling especially adventurous.
Today, an amazing 13.5million bags of crisps and snacks are sold every day in the UK, the snack market is worth a staggering £2.3billion and 99 per cent of the population eat snacks. The likes of KP, Golden Wonder and Walkers as well as the smaller, niche producers are falling over themselves to introduce an increasingly innovative snack offering to meet demand from a variety-seeking consumer.
However, this enthusiasm does not seem to be shared by the majority of publicans. Gary White, Golden Wonder's licensed channel manager, said: "The whole bagged snack market growth is being driven by snacks, while the crisp market is pretty stable.
"Traditionally pubs have stocked crisps, but we would like to be stocking more corn and maize snacks because that's what people are choosing to eat. Traditional pubs have proved reluctant to switch to these new brands."
Although sales of snacks in the on-trade are currently estimated to be around £150million, approximately seven per cent of all UK sales, there is a general feeling that a few minor changes in approach could substantially improve this figure. Snacks manufacturers argue that with a little innovation and imagination, publicans can make a packet out of snacks.
The biggest gripe seems to focus on display. In a category that relies so heavily on impulse purchase (70 per cent of customers don't even know if they are going to buy a packet of crisps until they reach the bar) visibility is key. If the snacks are out of sight, more often than not they're out of mind.
Malcolm Crawford, national account sales manager for United Biscuits, owner of KP, said: "The point-of-sale display is by far the most critical factor for successful retail in pubs. We aim to get material at least two metres away from the till in each bar," he said: "It's not rocket science, all you need to do is make sure you choose the right snacks for your customers and make sure they can see them."
Although far from a remarkable revelation, the majority of licensees still hide snacks where customers can't see them. One guilty protagonist to conceal the cashews is Peggy Mitchell, landlady of The Queen Vic in Eastenders. Smug viewers may be able to see the pub's extensive snack display but drinkers are left none the wiser. Does anyone nibble snacks with their pint in Albert Square? I rest my case. See Coronation Street's Rovers Return (or Boozy Newt) for better guidance.
"It's all about the right range, right product in the right place," added Gary White. "Merchandising at eye level is bound to increase your sales. A substantial increase in turnover is achievable by using effective display."
Recent research by Walkers revealed that a decent display of snacks grew sales by up to 30 per cent. Furthermore, having snacks close at hand means pub staff aren't bombarded with "What crisps do you do?" and are free to do other things.
However, a major snack-induced snag is the issue of space behind the bar. Major snack manufacturers are opting for display stands that can be easily refilled in order to boost sales.
KP supplies a two-tier counter display unit no bigger than a sheet of A4 that can hold six or seven packets as well as a flip-strip of metal that can hang down or fix to the wall. "These displays act as sample holders, allowing publicans to show customers what's on offer but keep their stock elsewhere," added Crawford.
The emergence of style bars and gastro-pubs has catalysed the arrival of more specialist niche snacks aimed at a growing trendier market. People are becoming more quality conscious in what they eat and drink and depending on their type of outlet, publicans should take time to find a snack that befits their customers' status. The top end of the market is littered with niche brands happy to accompany premium drinks such as cocktails and top-of-the-range spirits. One of the leading premium brands to make an impact is Kettle Chips.
Pippa Rowntree, PR and Consumer Services Manager at Kettle Foods, said: "Kettle Chips are particularly targeted at any outlet whose customers are looking for a good quality snack to accompany a drink."
Crisps and nuts are a big money-earner. The profit margins available in snacks should be incentive enough for publicans to get their Wotsits and spicy nuts in order.
Crawford added: "Although percentage of turnover is small, the profit margins are well above average. Two per cent of total sales translates to four per cent of a pub's profits.
"Variety offers the opportunity for publicans to sell products at an inflated price to make a higher margin, and to try and encourage people to move from a standard range to more premium products," he added.
One way of stretching the margins is to promote 50 gram bags instead of the smaller 35 gram variety. "The sharing occasion is an important but still quite small part of the market," said Crawford. Also, by serving snacks as an accompaniment to a sandwich or offering children a soft drink and snack promotion, the publican can add value for the customer and maximise their potential.
In addition to their own substantial mark-up, research has proven that snacks are a fantastic way to drive drink sales, especially the spicy and salty variety that leave the mouth drier than a Bedouin's flip-flop.
In short, whether sold in a traditional pub, trendy style bar or gastro pub, the humble and flexible snack can cater for an eclectic range of tastes. So stop procrastinating and get your Nik-Naks out where everyone can see them!