There aren‘t many things you can eat with impunity in bed at halfpast three in the morning. but haggis flavour crisps are all right. Crisps are certainly less bother to rustle up than your average plat de la nuit. which explains I suppose why five thousand million packets ofthem were bought in the UK last year. Snacking. as they call it in the trade. is on the increase: when is the last time you sat down to lunch? Designer sandwiches. canteen-style school dinners and proliferating (in London anyway) tapas bars. only go to show that the square meal has been eclipsed. Free-form eating has established its place on the social agenda.
Who knows if in the modern market place supply creates demand or vice versa‘.’ As snacking soars. the market in crunchy things in packets has grown and diversified with unforeseen vigour. ()nce. a crisp was a crisp was a crisp. and kids ate them. Now you can choose the crisp to suit your lifestyle: lower fat crisps to munch after a punishing game of squash: old-fashioned thick and crunchy crisps in substantial packets for eating in oak-panelled pubs: organically-grown crisps for serving at Green Party get-togethers; crisps with their skins left on as part ofyour high fibre diet.
The growth in snack sales ( 138“? over the past five years says the 1987 Snack Food Review) and the new grasp of the adult market comes after a period of reassessment within the industry. Five years ago crisp sales were dropping. The food terrorists were frightening us off a product which. after all. consisted mainly of that supposed harbinger of ill-health and extra inches: the deep-fried potato. Established in I983 to keep the industry in touch with nutritional issues. government departments and the media. the Snack Nut and Crisp Manufacturers Association Ltd (SNACMA) has waged a campaign
Going for the crunch. Julie Morrice opens up the snack market and finds no such thing as the average crisp.
to allay misconceptions about the crisp. Crisps. they say. are not high in salt: they may be high in fat (a crisp is about one third fat by weight) but it is all vegetable oil and largely polyunsaturated; they contain no refined carbohydrate. no added sugar and do contain traces of Vitamin C. iron and other nutrients. 'I‘he ever-increasing consumer demand for no artificial anything has persuaded the manufacturers to leave out antioxidants ( E320. E321) and. say SNACMA. the industry is progressively pursuing natural rather than artificial flavours. Nevertheless. there is still no cheese in a cheese and onion crisp.
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Consumer demand has also brought the ‘healthy‘ crisp onto the market. but there is little evidence that they are any better for you. "l’here is no statistical data that proves conclusively that ‘jacket' crisps contain more fibre.‘ say SNACMA. Lower fat crisps do contain about 30% less fat. but otherwise the difference is mostly in the marketing.
Image is all-important in the highly
competitive snack market. dominated as it is by giants like KP (part of United Biscuits). Smiths. Walkers and 'l'udor (all owned by Nabisco) and Golden Wonder (recently sold to the Dalgety Group
by Hanson). 'l'he aggressive claymore-wielding clansman creates a necessarily bold image for Highlander Crisps. the first product from the new Bathgate company. Forth Valley Foods. Formed in November last year. it is an all-Scottish consortium born out of the withdrawal from B roxburn of Golden Wonder which resulted in the loss of over three hundred jobs. The new company employs 53 staff on its £1 million production line. which was supplied and fitted by local manufacturers. The crisp all true Scots have been waiting for may be well aware of its nationality. but it seems the consumer is not as political or romantic as the marketers might hope. ‘()ur success will depend on consumers‘ desire to buy a Scottish product and support the Scottish economy.‘ said Managing Director. Tom Lambie. in a glossy PR handout marking the launch of the company. Four months into production. he admits. ‘lt comes down to quality. If the customer opens up the pack and it‘s a good quality product. it doesn't matter where the crisps are made.’
Highlander Crisps seem to have found their niche in the (ill million Scottish crisp market. Although aware of the growing importance of ‘healthy' snacks. their diversification has largely been into unusual flavours. Already boasting Bacon & Brown Sauce. Scottish 'l‘omato and Scottish l laggis flavours. their range will expand over the next week or two to include Yankee Barbecue flavour. a charcoal flavour which they believe is unique in Britain. and Iron Brew llavour.
‘Customer awareness is not achieved overnight.’ says Lambie. ‘lt has not been easy.‘ Nevertheless. as the only major crisp manufacturer in Scotland. Highlander have already achieved encouraging sales and seem ready to stand and fight against the Sassenach giants.
With scant regard tortheir waistlines. Douglas Hall and Arlene Cameron olthe Potato Section olthe Department of Agriculture and Fisheries at East Craigs agreed to applytheir expertise to selecting the best from the range of ‘healthy‘ crisps onthe market. East Craigs is the breeding ground lorthe nucleus stock of Britain's
potatoes. The progenitors olchips. mash and pommes lyonnaisethe length and breadth of the country start life in old honey jars in a warm cupboard inthe Department's laboratories. Much of the work olthe Potato Section is in disease and yield assessment. but suitability for crisping is alsoa consideration in testing new varieties.
The crisps on trial were Smiths Jackets(17p).
Bensons Jacket Fried Potato Crisps(16p). Hedgehog crisps(14p). McCoys Potato Chips(22p). KP LowerFat Crisps(15p) and KP's standard crisps(15p). all in salted llavour.
The panel was surprised tolind pronounced differences between the brands. Both the ‘iacket' varieties had a ‘burntish' llavour which the testers found unpleasant. Smiths Jackets were very darkin
colour. 3 sign that the potato contained a lot oi reducing sugar. (The ideal potato for crisping is one in which. after cold storage. the sugar turns back into starch). The general appearance of thejacket varieties was held to be ‘messy and unattractive'. butthey were pleasantly crunchy.
Hedgehog Lightly Sea Salted crisps. madelrom organically grown potatoes.
were not a success. The testers thought they were ‘insipid‘ and tasted too much oi oil. They were also far less crispy than other brands. McCoy's were well-liked. and definitely lived up to the thick and crunchy claim on the packet
Perhaps surprisingly. KP Lower Fat Crisps emerged as the all-round iavourite. The testers were impressed bytheirpale colour. good
shape and crunchiness. By comparison. KP's standard Heady Salted crisps were ‘thin and oily.’ Ultimately the testers feltthatthe potato itsell adds very little to the flavour of the crisp. In salted flavour at least. it is the thickness and texture of the crisp which make fora satisfying snack.
The list S~ ll .luly WSS 53