Never has the snack market been more competitive. Not only do the crisp and salty snack manufacturers have each other to contend with but they also have to tackle competition from other categories. And it’s everywhere – from hunger-busting chocolate bars to filling smoothie drinks; from calorie-counted salads to calorie-laden pies and pasties.

But despite the huge range of snack options available, salty snacks and crisps are still very popular – whether with a sandwich at lunchtime or while watching the footie at home in the evening. It’s just a case of picking the wheat from the chaff, and stocking the products that are instantly recognisable because of their huge marketing support or picking them because they’re what customers want.

When it comes to marketing support, you can’t move for activity in the bagged snack market at the moment, whether it’s new flavours or an on-pack promotion.

UBUK is running a Text & Win promotion on 125 million packs of Hula Hoops with a prize fund of £3m. Prizes include iPod Minis, recordable DVD players, digital cameras and recordable key rings. Big bags, handypacks, and multipacks all feature in the promotion, which is supported by a £750,000 spend. Another UBUK brand, Skips, is continuing its association with The Tussauds Group by sponsoring the new family rollercoaster at Chessington World of Adventures – Dragon’s Fury.

In addition, UBUK is running an instant-win on-pack promotion across Skips and Hula Hoops which gives consumers the chance to win one of 200 family annual passes to all Tussauds attractions as well as additional prizes, such as ‘kids go free’ and ‘kids eat free’ vouchers.

Awareness of the Tussauds link will be generated by a heavyweight regional radio campaign throughout the Midlands, South East and London.

Walkers has eschewed promotions for the moment and taken the limited-edition route for its activity coupled with the continued use of some famous faces. Turn on the telly any day this summer and you’re sure to catch a glimpse of housewives’ favourite Gary Lineker, whether it’s his commentary on Euro 2004 or the latest Walkers crisps ad. This sees Lineker disguised as a Great White shark so he can get his hands on packets of the new limited edition Walkers Mediterranean flavour crisps. The ad is Lineker’s 48th for Walkers. The crisps he’s promoting are Greek kebab, tomato & basil and feta cheese flavours.

As Gary Lineker is the face of Walkers crisps so TV and radio star Vernon Kay is the new face of Doritos. Kay, who presents T4 and a weekend Radio One show, made his debut as the Doritos brand ambassador with the launch of Doritos Latinos, a new lighter crunch chip that comes in Mexican grill, chargrilled BBQ and sour cream & sweet pepper flavours.

Walkers trade marketing manager Nicky Seal explains the thinking behind the Latinos launch: “While sales of Doritos are up by 30 per cent in the year to date, we know there is still a huge untapped market opportunity in the premium evening snacking occasion. With Doritos Latinos we have taken the popular Doritos and added a twist of Latin spirit to reinforce the sociability and party atmosphere that big bags are about.”

Kay’s presence in the advertising is meant to reinforce that sociability even further. Commenting on the new campaign, Doritos senior brand manager, Corinne Prior, says: “As this year is the brand’s 10th anniversary, we have changed the campaign completely. It’s the end of cult TV programme Friends and the end of our Doritos FriendChips campaign.”

As if Messrs Lineker and Kay weren’t enough, infamous ‘It girl’ Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is back in a Walkers Sensations campaign. New ads that will appear in women’s magazines see Palmer-Tomkinson wearing different flavour dresses to represent the different flavours of the snack.

Of course not every crisp manufacturer has enough cash to tempt stars to promote their brands – some must rely on good old-fashioned marketing techniques such as the relaunch. While Walkers’ Sensations are described as ‘posh’ crisps, the Jonathan Crisp company is relaunching its range as crisps for snobs. Managing director Paul Saxby explains: “We’ve conducted extensive consumer research and as a result reformulated flavours and overhauled the packaging.”

The result is that each flavour gets its own quirky on-pack character. “Our aim was to develop a distinct market position to complement our premium product range and our research has confirmed that we’ve succeeded. Consumers clearly understand that we’re trying to sell them the ultimate in posh crisps. They see the characters as fun and engaging.”

The relaunch includes the addition of three new flavours: horseradish & sour cream, black olive & garlic and mature cheddar & red onion.

Another brand to get a new look is Nik Naks as part of a £2.5m package which includes national TV advertising, improved flavours and ‘freaky’ new pack designs. There’s also the hint of a “major media partnership”, but no firm details yet.

The Golden Wonder crisp too has been the subject of a relaunch with a big push for the brand in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Now availability has spread to London where the crisps are backed by a £1m spend. This includes sponsorship of Capital Gold’s Sportstime programme and mass sampling at major sporting events. There is also a 33 per cent extra free promotion on the three top-selling flavours – ready salted, cheese & onion and salt & vinegar.

Golden Wonder’s trade marketing controller, Kevin Smith, comments: “Changes in consumer demand, and increased competition in bagged snacks, have led to more product innovation, more marketing support and more choice for consumers. Health is also rising up the consumer agenda – and dashboard diners are among those being targeted by health campaigners keen to improve the nation’s eating habits.”

Smith says it’s against this backdrop that Golden Wonder has set its new-look crisps apart from competitive products. That’s because they are cooked in sunflower oil, and therefore contain 75 per cent less saturated fat.

“We’re not being righteous about what people eat, but it’s better for people to eat crisps cooked in sunflower oil rather than palm oil,” says Smith. “However, our main focus remains on producing great-tasting crisps as taste is what matters most to consumers.”

Pringles, because they come in a tube, aren’t really a bagged snack but you can’t talk about salty snacks and leave them out. The brand’s latest activity is a Taste the World campaign that kicks off with a Wild West theme. The trio of new flavours – Texas BBQ sauce, Mexican salsa and smokin’ bacon – are all available now. The launch is in response to research that found consumers love tasting different flavours from around the world and the fact that barbecues are now a key summer activity.

The brand’s £1.5m marketing support programme includes a new ‘Wild West Garden’ TV ad, which is set to run from August, plus nationwide local radio and national press activity.

Paul Lettice, Procter & Gamble’s trade marketing manager, says: “The snack market’s biggest recent success stories have been built around a combination of interesting flavours, new pack design and umbrella themes executed holistically, and we’re continuing in that tradition. The Taste the World campaign is set to grow Pringles’ core consumer base. The proposition is based on a simple and bold concept, with some great looking packs that add adult appeal and offer impact to the snacks fixture.”

The tubes feature a world map ringed with stars – reminiscent of a passport visa stamp – together with photo-style imagery depicting the region each flavour comes from. A lone cowboy on a rearing horse denotes Texas BBQ sauce flavour, for example. Lettice continues: “Pringles’ consistently outstanding performance at store level is based on making on-shelf implementation easy for the customer, with clearly differentiated products and in-store plans. With shelf space at a premium, the tightly defined Pringles range avoids stock proliferation and clutter.”

Lettice talks sense as clutter will only confuse the time-poor consumer and could lead to lost sales. Use the big brands like Pringles and Walkers to signpost the category and keep shelves well stocked of the big sellers.

Finally, don’t forget the buzz and excitement an on-pack promotion or new flavour can add to the category.