- A new study from the University of Surrey in England has found that eating behavior is influenced when food is presented using the word “snack” versus “meal,” according to a ScienceDirect abstract from Appetite magazine.
- Findings show that using the term “snack” on food products can lead to increased consumption and overeating. Consequently, researchers concluded, more food products should be marketed as “meals” rather than “snacks” to help consumers avoid overeating.
- The researchers studied the behavior of 80 women presented with a pasta dish labeled either as a snack or meal. Snacks were presented in a plastic container with plastic fork to be eaten while standing up. Meals were on a ceramic plate with a metal fork and served at a table. Findings show those eating the food labeled as a “snack” generally ate more than those with food marked as a “meal.” People who ate standing up consumed up to 50% more than those sitting down at a table to eat.
On-the-go lifestyles are having a profound impact on eating behavior. More consumers are grabbing food items labeled as "snacks" as sustenance.
“What we have found is that those who are consuming snacks are more likely to overeat as they may not realize or even remember what they have eaten,” Jane Ogden, professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey and head of the research said in a statement. “To overcome this, we should call our food a meal and eat it as a meal, helping make us more aware of what we are eating so that we don’t overeat later on.”
This is probably easier said than done. Snacking and grab-and-go convenience foods have become the norm for many busy consumers — a trend that hasn't gone unnoticed by brand marketers and retailers. Half of adults snack two to three times a day, and 70% believe that any food can be a snack, according to a recent Mintel report.
A study by Datassential reveals that consumers, on average, eat about four to five snack foods a day. Yet people tend to overestimate the number of healthy snacks — like fruit, nuts, yogurt and vegetables — they eat per day. In reality, they eat more salty and crunchy snacks. Nearly half (48%) consume at least one salty snack a day, according to Datassential's report.
The new — albeit small — study from the University of Surrey provides some cold, hard facts about the health consequences. Snacking could result in overeating which could contribute to obesity and other consumer health-related issues — such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
The study also implies that brands and retailers could help in the fight against overeating and obesity by changing product labels. They can also shift merchandising and marketing efforts so food is perceived more often as a meal rather than snack.
While some would like to think of Big Food and retailers as corporately responsible citizens that have the best interest of consumers' health in mind, there's probably too much money at stake to make this kind of change. Snacks and grab-and-go food has become big business for CPGs and retailers alike.
Conagra has been on a buying spree as of late, making a number of acquisitions — including Angie’s Boomchickapop and Thanasi Food — that has allowed it to strengthen its position in the snacks space. With acquisitions like Krave and barkTHINS, Hershey CEO Michele Buck’s stated goal is to diversify the company's portfolio and make it an "innovative snacking powerhouse." Tyson Foods unveiled a line of new grab-and-go, heat-and-eat and made-to-order food items at last month’s National Association of Convenience Stores show.
The grocery landscape also is rife with retailers focused on providing quick and convenient grab-and-go and snack food options. Convenience stores are increasingly growing their in-store sales with a selection that often features everything from fresh produce to grab-and-go sandwiches and made-to-order food stations — exactly what consumers need to grab a quick bite on the run.
While this new study provides some interesting food for thought, don’t expect CPG brands or retailers to turn their backs on the snacking and grab-and-go trend. There’s too much money to be made trying to satisfy consumers’ cravings for quick and convenient foods.