PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble and United biscuits top the list of most successful snack companies, thanks to strong sales of popular favourites combined with innovation in the health and premium sectors, according to Euromonitor. The sweet and salty snack industry has suffered a lower sales growth rate in 2007 due to negative press over rising obesity rates, but sales still increased by almost two per cent in 2007, according to Euromonitor analyst Irina Kazanchuk. PepsiCo has been the unchallenged snack leader, controlling a 23 per cent share of the market in Western Europe, followed by Proctor & Gamble with a five per cent share and United Biscuits with a four per cent share. As well as having strong sales of consistently popular brands, such as PepsiCo's Walkers crisps, the top three companies have also invested in reducing the fat, salt and sugar content of their products. "For example, 2006 saw PepsiCo replace its traditional cooking oil for a sunseed oil variety in the UK, to reduce saturated fat and salt content across its standard Walkers brands," Kazanchuk said. "In the same year United Biscuits Holding extended its low fat go ahead! range, with go ahead! Crispy Bites and Crinkly Crisps." Premiumisation - formulating premium lines of current products - has also been an important trend, with many companies adding exotic flavours such as paprika, gourmet prawns or salsa verde to their lines. PepsiCo PepsiCo, the undisputed champion of snacks, owns the massively popular brands Walkers, Lay's and Doritos, all of which feature in the list of top five snack brands in Europe. Acquisition-led growth has been a key strategy for the company over the past two years, Kazanchuk said, with attention to purchasing health snack operations. "The company has also made a number of snack business purchases outside of North America, including Star Foods in Poland and Sara Lee's European nut operation," she added. Earlier this month, PepsiCo said its third quarter revenues increased by 11 per cent to $10.1bn from the same period in 2006, and the company is set to experience similar strong growth in the near future, Kazanchuk said. "PepsiCo is by far the market leader in Western Europe in this sector, therefore it will be hard to compete for the first rank," she added. According to Euromonitor, PepsiCo's future strategies are likely to include using organic ingredients for the Walkers and Lay's brands, as well as expanding its presence in the "healthy" nuts market. Proctor & Gamble Unlike PepsiCo, Proctor and Gamble has only a marginal interest in the snack industry, as the company's core interest lies in household and personal care products. However, the company owns the billion dollar brand Pringles, which is second only PepsiCo's Walkers in the list of most popular snack brands in Wester Europe, with 5.2 per cent of the market share. Because Proctor & Gamble's interests lie with only one brand, Euromonitor does not expect the company to expand the snack business through acquisitions in the near future. "Should any significant changes in terms of the company's standing within the global packaged food industry occur, this is rather more likely to be the result of possible divestment," Kazanchuk said. The health and wellness trend could cause the company some anxiety, she added, Proctor & Gamble has no products in the healthy nuts or fruit snack category. "Branching out into snacks with a more "healthy" and "natural" image for Pringles could be a way for the brand to capitalise on the rise in demand for these types of products." United Biscuits As well as being the fourth largest bakery company in Western Europe, UK-based United Biscuits comes in at number three of the most successful snack companies. Like PepsiCo, the company sells a range of popular snacks in the region including KP Nuts, Hula Hoops, McCoy's, Mini Cheddars, Skips and Twiglets. The company claims to be making concerted efforts to reduce the salt and fat content of all these products, and in September said it had removed hydrogenated vegetable oil, known for causing trans fatty acids, from all of its snacks. According to Euromonitor, the company is unlikely to make any further acquitions in this area in the near future, and will instead of focus on improving its biscuits business. The future of the division also depends on the attitude of the private equity firms PAI Partners and Blackstone Group, who bought the company in 2006.