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Snack attack: how the tasty morsel on your bar has come of age

By Helen Gregory

- Last updated on GMT

Mouth watering: bar snacks are a great British pub tradition
Mouth watering: bar snacks are a great British pub tradition

Related tags Bar snacks Food

The Morning Advertiser looks at the history of pub snacks and how the sector is evolving in the modern age.

Buying a snack is now often more than just about getting a round in, coming back from the bar with a couple of bags of crisps between your teeth.

Bar snacks help profits, feed hungry customers, encourage more drink sales, can even be a talking point if they’re interesting enough, and bring in new customers. It’s certainly not just about offering salty snacks to keep a thirst going or high carbs to soak up the beer. These days it’s common to find seeds and wasabi peas in Kilner jars, or sharing plates of chicken wings at the bar.

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In fact, historically, drinkers were more adventurous, tucking into pickled whelks, boiled green peas, fried fish, pies and sheep trotters back in the 1850s, all bought from wandering hawkers. By the early 20th century, they were selling black pudding and pies, but by the time of World War II, pubs were getting in on the act and had started selling a relatively new innovation: packets of crisps.

These found favour when Frank Smith started selling his crisps with a sachet of salt. The convenient snacks had a long shelf life, were easily stored, and soon became a firm favourite with drinkers.

Others then joined Smith's behind the bar, such as KP nuts, which launched bags in 1953, while pork scratchings also became a stalwart after the war. Cheese or ham rolls (always in white bread) appeared from the 1960s, along with pies, pasties and sausage rolls. While these are still common fare, many pubs are now trying them with new flavours, or branching out into new cuisines on small plates, such as Spanish tapas and Chinese dim sum.

Traditional bagged snack sector

Crisps have moved on from the little blue bags of salt as suppliers continue to put a twist on snacks to tempt consumers back to the bag. PepsiCo has taken this literally with its new Doritos Bits: mini twisted Doritos pieces. These carded snacks come in a pourable tube bag in spicy cheese and BBQ flavours.


Mike Harding, sales director of the away from home channel at PepsiCo, says: “The key benefit of stocking carded snacks in a pub is that it is a ready-made mechanised solution. The cards take up minimal space and can be hung up in full view to capture customer attention.”

Mr Porky​ has also produced pub card formats for its range, which it says frees up space behind bars to display products. Unsurprisingly, these old favourites such as pork scratchings and standard crisp flavours are still hugely popular across most bars and pubs.

“We have found that unique flavours such as Golden Wonder’s Sausage & Tomato have created interest within the sector,” Matthew Smith, marketing director of Golden Wonder, Mr Porky and Real Handcooked crisps, reports. “However, most on-trade consumers stick to the core Golden Wonder flavours that they know and love, such as cheese & onion and salt & vinegar.”

He says Real Handcooked crisps with its strong, “no-nonsense combinations”, including Strong Cheese & Onion, Roast Ox and Ham & English Mustard are seen as a more adult option, compared to standard crisps, and also pair well with alcohol. 

“We have seen a real trend towards the ‘traditional’ in the on-trade sector and while new upmarket snacks are continually being introduced to the sector, our consumers seek out Mr Porky and the unique taste and crunch experience our range offers.” 

Smith says that its healthier option, Mr Porky Crispy Strips, are performing well and gaining additional listings. Available in a pub card format, they contain 30% less fat, while its Mr Porky artisan, premium product, Mr Porky Handcooked Pork Scratchings, come in 45g packs. “These are aimed at the true connoisseur who is seeking even more from their pork snacking experience,” he adds.

However, aside from the potato crisps and nuts, there’s plenty of bagged new kids on the block that are finding shelf space such as roasted chickpeas (Cheeky P’s) and roasted pitta chips (Soffles).

Hot or cold bar snacks

Scotch eggs are no longer seen as the service station staple, with a myriad of different twists on the humble egg in sausage meat. The annual Scotch Egg Challenge – with many entrants from pubs around the UK – has seen efforts such as pork, haggis and panko breadcrumb, and Lincoln russet beef, middle white pork, salt, pepper and MSG vie for top spot.

Another old favourite, the pickled egg, has had a bit of a makeover of late, with Purely Pickled Eggs aiming to bring it into the 21st century. Its 12 flavours of British free-range pickled eggs range from Scotch Bonnet chilli to garlic.

Sue Tyley, pickling director, says its products are popular across a range of pubs and bars such as Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) pubs, hipster bars like the Cock Tavern in Hackney, east London; and micropubs like the Little Green Dragon Alehouse in Enfield, north London.

Mintel reports that instead of creating a formal food menu, some pubs and bars that specialise in drinks are now serving small plates designed for sharing at the table.


Brinkburn St Brewery, an independent microbrewery in Byker, Tyne & Wear, has just opened the Brinkburn Bar & Kitchen serving tapas-style small plates for between £3 and £6, such as black pudding bon bons & Byker Brown Ale chutney with Hasselback potatoes & Quayside Blonde ketchup. Its USP is using the brewery’s own beer in recipes wherever possible, says manager Josie Smith. “We make our own Scotch eggs made from black pudding, using local pigs fed by grain from our brewery.”

The new bar didn’t want to buy in frozen food and it’s paying off, reports Smith. “People are coming in for a drink, and although they might not plan on having food, are intrigued by the menu and end up buying some dishes to share.”

Other pubs are putting smaller plates on the menu alongside their traditional fare such as the Stanhill Pub & Kitchen in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, which started doing three-for-£12 or five-for-£20 English tapas when it reopened five months ago, including curried cauliflower florets, goats' cheese and chilli bon-bons and spicy chicken wings.

Owner Brian Healy explains: “They’re really popular with customers of all ages, not just the younger people who I thought would like them. I’ve found that people are choosing to have a plate or two instead of the usual bar nuts.”

Premium snacking

With pubs and bars across the sector getting a makeover, snacks are no different. Posher bar fare can add some real excitement – think small plates of nibbles such as olives, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese platters, loose exotic nuts and cured meats.

They’re particularly good for bars that want handmade, restaurant-quality food but don’t have the kitchen – such as micropubs – or time, to deliver it.

Jack links

And it doesn’t have to mean forking out too much as display is also important. Putting nuts in jars can tempt drinkers and give a premium image; while if you hang dried meat in bags behind the bar, you’ll probably tempt men to grab one with a pint, but serve it on a board or in a ramekin as part of a charcuterie plate, and it’s far more female-friendly.

Meat snack producer Jack Links​ has three beef jerky flavours; Original, Sweet & Hot and Teriyaki, and recently launched Jack Links Biltong in 12 x 25g packs.

Shaun Whelan, out of home controller for UK & Ireland, says they’re particularly popular with 18 to 40-year-olds looking for a snack that complements time spent at the gym, and who are willing to pay a bit extra for a high-quality snack.

He says: “The snack offer in a pub is a real growth market. Now consumers are more demanding and the growth in sales of protein-based snacks shows no sign of stopping.”

Meatsnacks Group​ has just launched jerky and biltong into pots with its new brand Krave, which allows pubgoers to share without having to rip open the pack. They’re high in protein, gluten-free and contain less than 100 calories per pack. 

The jerky comes in a range of beef and salmon flavours and two pack formats: pouch and pot. It recommends trying salmon jerky with lighter beers, gin and Prosecco, and the beef jerky and biltong with darker beers.

Salmon jerky

“Today’s consumer is looking for a social foodie offering and a snack that will deliver more in terms of flavour,” says Jennifer Macdonald-Nethercott, marketing manager. “They’re looking for healthier, but tastier options, especially when it comes to protein.”

Its variants include Szechuan Pepper and Ginger Salt Beef Jerky, Warm Chimichurri Beef Biltong and Zesty Lemon & Dill Salmon Jerky.

Nuts are all about adventurous flavours too, with Belazu offering Truffle & Pecorino, and Rose Harissa Nut Mix. Last year, it launched nut mixes including a spicy Shatta Nut Mix with smoked paprika and cayenne pepper and a Socca Nut Mix coated in gram flour and parsley.

Sales manager Oliver Crumpton says the trend for premium snacks, olives and nuts was previously associated with high-end restaurants but, has now filtered down to high street chains and pubs. Consumers are becoming more adventurous and, although there has been a shift towards bold and interesting flavours, quality is still paramount.

“Consumers love to try products which they can’t buy in the supermarket. Up-and-coming flavours include all things spicy or smoked,” agrees Sun Valley Nut Co’s​ marketing manager, Alison Robson.

She points to its Spicy Bar Mix – a mix of chilli flavoured peanuts and rice crackers, chilli coated peanuts, cashews and BBQ flavour crunchy corn pieces or Smoked Mixed Nuts – a mix of peanuts, almonds and pecan nuts in a smoky seasoning. Other hot and spicy options are classic Black Pepper with Sea Salt cashews.

Sun Valley adds that serving its snacks in ramekins or branded cups can add significant value and quality perception, while encouraging customers to try different flavours and nut mixes.

“Kilner jars and branded wooden display stands not only keep the product fresh but are eye-catching and allow pubs and bars to select the specific nut mixes they feel will suit their customer,” says Robson.

Its barpots are also proving popular, allowing pubs to serve premium ranges in a format that are quick to serve.


Once only seen as creepy fare for Ant and Dec’s 'bushtucker trials', insects are being served in snack packs at hip bars, but could start appearing in more basic boozers.

Insect snack producer Eat Grub says it’s a new opportunity for pub operators, as the bags of bugs taste good, are nutritious, as well as being both easy and environmentally friendly to farm.

“We’re not a gimmick,” insists co-founder Shami Radia, who reckons people want something more exciting with a drink these days. A bar is a good place to spark their interest, and although he acknowledges there will always be reluctance from some drinkers, the more adventurous are embracing the idea, particularly the under-40s.

Grub: insects are a rising snacking trend

Eat Grub uses crickets, mealworms, buffalo worms and grasshoppers in its products, and reports that its 9g packs of crunchy roasted crickets are proving the most popular, in peri-peri, smoky barbecue and sweet chilli and lime flavours. The company also supplies in bulk for Kilner jars.

It aims to expand its reach beyond independents and into the bigger brewery chains, while also looking for drinks partners to develop bespoke flavours. “We’re thinking of lager and lime style or whisky flavours,” says Radia.

Orbit Beers brewery stocks them in the taproom in Kennington, south London, where commercial manager Robbie Sykes reports that they’re a bit of a talking point. “We find that people in groups buy them as someone will want to offer them to their friends. However, we’ve also been surprised by how many kids have tried them when they come in with their parents, particularly the under-fives!”

Related topics Food trends

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