May 2024 Issue

Convenience Foods: Cracker Category Innovations
By Michelle Dudash, RDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 26 No. 5 P. 12

Companies are elevating a long-known classic snack.

Peruse the cracker aisle these days and options abound beyond the typical recipes with refined wheat flour, vegetable oil, and basic flavors. Exciting cracker varieties are no longer limited to the inner store aisles, either. Snacks studded with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit adorn artisan cheese cases. No doubt, Americans love to snack, but as Gen Z and millennials join in on the snack revolution, ingredient and flavor innovations have become evident and necessary.

According to data collected by Mintel, younger consumers don’t eat crackers as much as older populations.1 With crackers from previous decades relying largely on basic ingredients like refined flour and vegetable oils, the new generation of crackers features nuts and seeds, herbs, spices, and extraordinary flours to attract younger consumers.

Despite crackers being one of the largest snack categories in the United States, total market growth is slowing due to younger snackers opting for comfort snacks like potato chips and tortilla chips. Moreover, the demand for vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and nutrient-rich snacks also has spurred the category.

“Crackers are starting to have bigger, bolder flavors and are delicious without any toppings,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition expert based in Brooklyn, New York, and author of Everyday Snack Tray. “There are tons of gluten-free options with a better nutritional profile, not just fluff like rice flour and various starches.”

Cracker innovations in recent years have included gluten-free, seeded, whole-grain, high-fiber, and low-sodium options, plus new varieties are on the horizon, like those with sustainably sourced ingredients and others that are more nutrient rich.

For example, the seed cracker market size is increasing, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 5.8% between 2023 and 2032.2 Consumers are seeking more healthful snacking options and becoming more aware of the health benefits of ingredients like seeds.

“Consumers should look for whole grain flour or a nut and seed mix as the first ingredient [in crackers],” says Largeman-Roth, who’s created a DIY Cheddar Cracker recipe on her blog, “You want to see at least 2 g fiber and 2 to 3 g protein per serving, which will help you feel satisfied with your snack.”

Ingredient Changes
It seems as though cracker ingredients are limited only by people’s imaginations.

“I’ve been seeing buckwheat in lots of products overall, and one of the latest brands is a cracker called ‘Better with Buckwheat,’” Largeman-Roth says. Buckwheat flour is a gluten-free seed “and is very sustainable.” This new-found variety means there’s a healthful cracker snack for just about anyone. From almond flour to flaxseeds to brown rice flour, the present-day crackers go well beyond wheat flour.

One of these innovative cracker brands is Mary’s Gone Crackers, founded in 2004 by Mary Waldner after being diagnosed with celiac disease at age 43.3 Waldner filled a niche, and many people loved her seed-and-whole-grain crackers. She sold a majority stake in her company in 2013 to the subsidiary Kameda USA, Inc, owned by the largest Japanese rice cracker manufacturer.4

Mary’s Gone Crackers Original is made largely of brown rice flour, flax, and sesame seeds. The company has gone on to create new product lines, including Super Seed, Real Thin, Kookies, and its newest line Cheezee, made with chickpea flour and palm fruit shortening.

Kaitlin Smith, another innovative entrepreneur, announced her cracker line eight years after launching Simple Mills, her popular brand made well-known by her gluten-free muffin mixes.5 These almond flour-based crackers also contain sunflower and flaxseed meal, tapioca starch, and sunflower oil, among other simple ingredients.

While more of a crisp, Off the Eaten Path Chickpea Veggie Crisps are another favorite of Largeman-Roth, as they can be used like a cracker, she says. “I like topping them with a little goat cheese and pepper jelly.” At 5 g protein and 3 g fiber per serving, they boast an appealing nutritional profile.

“If you love a crunchy, hearty cracker, the Wasa Sourdough Crispbread is for you,” Largeman-Roth says. “I like the larger size of this cracker when I’m using substantial toppings like whole avocado slices, lox, and other smoked fish.” The ingredients couldn’t be simpler: whole grain rye flour, rye flour, yeast, and salt. Considering the larger dimensions, the calories are low at 30 kcal per slice.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD, author of The Flexitarian Diet and Superfood Swap, based in Chicago, Illinois, kicks up the fun factor by enjoying her tuna salad on top of black sesame rice crackers, a light and super crunchy gluten-free cracker.

“I’m a fan of black sesame crackers because they usually have a base of brown rice, a little tamari for flavor, and have both black and white sesame seeds for some added super seed nutrition,” Blatner says. “The benefits of sesame seeds include plant protein, fat, fiber, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron.”

Leslie Stowe Fine Foods’ gourmet line Leslie Stowe Raincoast Crisps offers almond flour crackers, which won “Best Crisps” in the Crunchy Chips & Crackers category included as part of the Good Housekeeping 2023 Best Snack Awards. Its main ingredients also include cassava flour, dates, flax and pumpkin seeds, and raisins.

For crackers worthy of adorning an artistic charcuterie board, La Panzanella Artisanal Foods Co. offers light-as-air and perfectly imperfect cracker shapes in its Croccantini Multigrain, Whole Wheat, and Sprouted Grain varieties, which contain quinoa and amaranth. The brand also recently introduced Gluten-Free Oat Thins in Toasted Oat and Rosemary flavors.

Blue Diamond Nut-Thins has taken wild cracker flavors to the next level with Sriracha, Pepper Jack Cheese, and Country Ranch.

Some brands are smashing their cracker concepts to get onboard with popular food trends and roll out new flavors like Crunchmaster Avocado Toast Crackers. This new line of crackers is made with rice flour, potato starch, and avocado seasoning, which contains real avocado, is gluten-free, and contains no artificial flavors or saturated fat.

Crunchmaster Protein Snack Crackers offer 5 g protein from garbanzo flour and brown rice protein, as well as 16 g whole grains per serving, which constitutes one serving of whole grains. Crunchmaster Oatmeal Minis feature rolled oats and oat flour as the second and third ingredients by weight, respectively.

However, crackers are no longer limited to the grain food group. Highkey Snacks, a brand that serves the keto, low-carb, and grain-free crowd, recently launched gluten-free crackers with 7 g protein and 1 to 2 g net carbs per serving. Its main ingredients include butter, resistant cassava fiber, almond flour, and whey protein concentrate.

Click to enlarge

Environmentally Friendly Varieties
“More companies are using ingredients that are grown using regenerative agriculture, like Patagonia Provisions crackers,” Largeman-Roth says. According to the Patagonia Provisions’ website, the crackers are “made with organic and regeneratively grown wheat from Washington State, which is milled in Washington, too, creating a short supply chain that supports local farmers and reduces our carbon footprint.”

Bottomline for RDs
• Crackers are a convenient, portable, and efficient way to incorporate more whole grains and fiber, and perhaps even seeds and nuts, into dietary patterns, with minimal food waste due to their shelf-stable nature.

• Largeman-Roth recommends seeking out crackers with 2 g fiber and 2 to 3 g protein per serving, with 0 g saturated and 0 g trans fat.

• Portion size makes a difference, so encourage patients to read the serving sizes on food labels to keep calorie consumption in line with their needs.

• Guide patients toward nutritious cracker toppings for a balanced meal or snack, like cheese, hummus, avocado, seafood, and sliced fruit and vegetables.

• For grain-based crackers, look for those made with whole grains listed as the first ingredient.

Companies are making it more accessible than ever to find healthful snacking opportunities. A nutritious mini meal may be just a snack board away with the help of crackers made with nutrient-rich ingredients.

— Michelle Dudash, RDN, is a Cordon Bleu–certified chef, author of Clean Eating Kitchen: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook (Fair Winds Press, 2021), TV personality, and founder of Spicekick® Seasoning Mix, a line of gluten-free, no-added-sugar seasoning mixes.

1. US crackers market report 2023. Mintel website.

2. Seed cracker market size – by product type (sunflower seeds crackers, pumpkin seeds crackers, sesame seeds crackers, flaxseeds crackers, chia seeds crackers), distribution channel, growth prospects, regional outlook & global forecast, 2023–2032. Global Market Insights website. Published November 2023.

3. Raz G. Mary’s Gone Crackers: Mary Waldner (Episode 532). How I Built This Podcast with Guy Raz. Wondery website. Published July 10, 2023.

4. Mary’s Gone Crackers. Mary’s Gone Crackers announces acquisition by Kameda USA, Inc. Business Wire website.’s-Gone-Crackers-Announces-Acquisition-by-Kameda-USA-Inc. Published March 26, 2023.

5. Raz G. Simple Mills: Katlin Smith. How I Built This Podcast with Guy Raz. NPR website. Published February 15, 2021.