Crackers and Crispbread; it’s what you eat when you kind of want a sandwich, but you’re only hungry enough for a snack. It’s what you take on a picnic. Or at a BBQ. Or for nibbles at any of an array of social occasions.
It’s a category filled with variety, stretching from the almost-a-sandwich offerings of Cruskits and Vita Weat, to the bite size cracker market increasingly dominated by Arnott’s Jatz. Or sometimes Savoy in Victoria.
Even within the “cracker” side of the market, the Australian cracker consumer falls into one of two camps: the Jatz/Savoy consumer, who often eats the product straight out of the box although that’s almost certainly not their intended use, or perhaps with a sliver of supermarket brand, Coon or Bega cheese.
And then there are those who want something a little more sophisticated. Perhaps with granules of cracked pepper scattered throughout. These consumers usually eat their crackers with a camembert of brie.
It's clearly a complicated category.
But regardless of what Australians choose to put on their cracker or crispbread, it’s sad to say that Australians do not seem to be engaging in this practice anymore. Volume growth – according to the scan data quoted in Retail World - has been up and down, but mostly positive, so at least there’s that.
But value growth – following a Vita-Weat-led boom in crispbread sales around 2012 – has been negative for three consecutive years, each year experiencing a decline that is slightly deeper than the year before.
And despite the hipster foodie revolution allegedly turning Australians into the kinds of food snobs that prefer a camembert to a Coon, Jatz is by some distance the largest brand of cracker in Australia with 24% value market share, according to Retail World.
Jatz is also making the largest gains, hence the green hue in this graph where "green" means brands on the go (since 2011), and "red" means brands that have not only stopped but gone backwards in market share.
That figure includes sales of Savoy as the Victorians sometimes call them, and if you are wondering what the difference between them is (and many people have), it’s mostly that Savoy contains golden syrup.
What’s more Jatz (or Savoy in Victoria) is becoming increasingly popular, receiving a 6.5% swing between 2011 and 2015. It’s also notably the only brand on the cracker side of the spectrum to experience market share gains over the last four years. All other cracker brands, such as Ritz, Sao (“you can’t beat a Sao for a snack?” well apparently now you can) and cracker-snob favourite Captain’s Table have all gone backwards! Goodman Fielder’s Veri Deli has exited the market entirely.
Whilst I'm sure that cracker connoisseurs will disagree, there's not a great deal of difference between one cracker and another. Unless of course you make the leap to some truly decadent cracker brand like Water Thins, such a crackin' cracker that it is counted in a whole different special category called "Premium/Entertaining." The typical Jatz consumer however, buys mostly on price, suggesting that much of Jatz's gains since 2011 have been due to having a lower unit price than both Ritz and Captain's Table.
Jatz’ leadership is particularly impressive when you take into account that its two closest rivals in terms of market share do not really compete with Jatz in any meaningful way. Cruskits and Vita-Weat are both crispbreads, not crackers. And it is these crispbread brands - as well as the less-popular, but steadily growing, Ryvita – that are making most of the non-Jatz market share gains.
Crispbreads were also responsible for the quite impressive growth rates experienced prior to 2013, most notably the late-2011 launch of Vita-Weat Lunch Slices, which emphasised both the potential of crispbreads as a lunch option, whilst featuring healthy/wholesome options such as “sunflower, oats and chia,” and “soy, linseed & sesame.” Given that crispbreads prior to this came in a rather limited selection of flavours, this was quite a big step, and led to a significant boost in Vita-Weat’s market share, from 10.4% to 13.8%.
Cruskits have been even more successful, receiving the biggest swing since 2011, although they have fallen back from their peak of 15.3% in 2013 having received a bump with their “carbs don’t fight fair, fight back with Cruskits” campaign and giving consumers an additional reason for to choose crispbreads for a snack or a light lunch.
Cruskits have now fallen back to 13.9% value market share, a backlash seemingly due to two factors (a) their fragility, leading to Cruskits frequently breaking up when you eat them and (b) the size of the Cruskit, which keeps on shrinking.
Health was consequently a key to the growth of crispbreads – with many parent’s also using them as an alternative to sandwiches in their children’s school lunchboxes – both in relation to Cruskits and increasingly in relation to Vita-Weat, who have really pushed the health angle with multigrain and 9-grain options.
Being a crispbread isn’t a foolproof strategy for market share gains. Nabisco Premium has fallen backwards.
We’ve so far ignored the “premium entertaining/other aisle” (in other words, the crackers that you find can also find in the deli section) category, which we should probably cover here since there is quite a big overlap, particularly in relation to the leading “premium entertaining/other aisle” brand of Water Thins (although this category also includes cheese twists and Abe’s Bagel Crisps which I guess you could put a topping on, but why would you?). Given the hipster-foodie-isation of Australian society, which one might assume would lead to a love for gourmet cheese on crackers, you might expect this category to be booming. But it is not! It is in decline as well! And those “premium entertaining” biscuits that are being sold (the cheese twists and the bagel crisps) are resembling the traditional cracker less and less and less.
What is going on? Are Australians no longer having picnics? Do they no longer eat nibbles at their BBQs?
I honestly have no idea.
Fortunately there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The myriad of toppings that Australians like to put on their crackers and crispbreads appear to be heading upwards. And I’m not just talking avocado.
I’m not going to discuss all the toppings of course, since the cracker and crispbread toppings have evolved to an extent that they could almost be considered an art-form. Although arguably they haven’t evolved quite as much as the industry might hope: despite decades of cracker ads suggesting to put caviar on your Jatz…
…I’m pretty sure most toppings don’t get much more extravagant than maybe an avocado and Vegemite. Still, the concept of putting anything remotely exciting on your cracker in something that many Americans would find preposterous; the Walmart website suggests that you dunk them in peanut butterinstead.
But I digress.
So let’s just look at two popular topping options, cheese and dips. And here we may see at least a glimmer of hope for the future of the cracker.
Now there are a zillion things that can be done with “block cheese”, the vast majority of which have nothing to do crackers. Still, it is worth noting that volume consumption of block cheese has recently been negative, although – according to Dairy Australia – is did grow by 2.8% in the twelve months to March 2016.
“Specialty or entertaining” cheese grew by 17% over that same time period – after previously also experiencing volume declines – and that includes brie and camembert (it also includes non-cracker related cheeses such as feta and haloumi, but no matter).
Then there are “chilled dips” – which are probably predominately consumed on a cracker, although one should never underestimate the popularity of a piece of carrot or celery – which have experienced quite sustained growth in recent years, up an additional 5.1% in volume in 2015, according to Retail World.
And of which is good news for crackers, a category that otherwise appears to be crumbling.