When 94% of Americans admit to snacking at least once a day, snacks are a difficult industry to maneuver. According to the same Mintel report, half of adults snack two to three times a day, and 70% believe that any food can be a snack. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise food companies are taking action.
According to the FoodThink white paper "Snacker Nation," snack sales in the U.S. are expected to increase from $34.2 billion in 2005 to $47.5 billion in 2015. That statistic is supported by the 23% of respondents who said they intend to snack more in the future. At 37%, millennials were the group most committed to heavier snacking in the future, and unsurprisingly millennials are driving many of the snacking trends seen today.
Snacking has always been heralded as being the most convenient way to eat with little to no cooking or preparation involved. As the typical lifestyle becomes more hectic with additional responsibilities and distractions, snacking offers a reprieve from food prep while being a physical and mental boost to keep consumers going throughout the day.
Snacks that are ready-to-eat and/or have convenient, particularly re-sealable, packaging are ideal for snackers today. Earlier this year, Hormel drew inspiration from its Skippy peanut butter brand and other candy brands to create Skippy P.B. Bites, unwrapped bite-size morsel snacks, like the unwrapped morsels candy companies like Mars Inc. and The Hershey Co. are currently producing.
Bite-size foods generally mean bite-size costs. When consumers don’t have a lot of money to drop on full meal prep, snacks offer an inexpensive way to satisfy a craving or hunger pang without having to commit to buying larger portions or multiple ingredients.
Part of a healthy diet
According to FoodThink, one-third of participants self-identified as healthy snackers, the largest of any snacker segment outlined in the white paper, and healthy eating has become a key driver for the snacking industry.
"Part of it is food marketers and the food industry as a whole making health more convenient, and making healthy items available in a snack-size way," said Christy Niebaum, senior researcher at FoodThink. "You see a lot of prepackaged health foods now. You can get packets of carrots or apples or even blueberries. Making health more convenient has opened that up to be more of a snacking option for consumers."
New snacking definition and meal replacement
As the Mintel research confirmed, more consumers have changed their definition of what constitutes a snack. No longer relegated to savory snacks like chips and popcorn or sweet snacks like candy, everything from meat and cheese to fruit and yogurt can be considered snacks.
Snacking is also beginning to take the place of consumers eating three square meals a day. Instead of eating at specific times, hectic schedules and living on the go means life doesn’t always stop for a full meal, which means consumers are snacking throughout the day to keep their appetites topped off. Last year, Hillshire Brands introduced a Hillshire Snacking, a line of products that toe the line between a large snack and a small meal, such as grilled meats in different flavors or salami and cheese with crackers, all in one convenient pack.
From grocery and convenience stores to food trucks and pop-up restaurants, destinations for snacks are plentiful for consumers.
Fun and adventurous flavors
Consumers today, especially millennials, are chasing bold, fun, and adventurous flavors for their foods and beverages. Part of this is out of the desire for something new, and other times it’s more of an emotional reason, such as a way to escape boredom, according to FoodThink.
"If you think about the desire to try new things, snacking is a really easy way to do that because it’s a lot less involvement and commitment to try something new in a snacking category versus trying something new and different that impacts an entire meal," said Niebaum.
Potato chips are well known for off-the-wall flavor profiles, such as Lay's annual Do Us a Flavor promotion, this year featuring Greektown Gyro and Southern Biscuits and Gravy, or Doritos' new Doritos Jacked 3D variety.
Wait, snacking — a health trend?
"Because consumers are moving toward more 'mindful snacking,' and are now more interested in what kind of snacks they are eating and giving to their family, the snacking industry has taken notice and is responding, said Jared Konstanty, president of better-for-you popcorn company Popcorn, Indiana. "For example, nearly 80% of new popcorn snacks in the U.S. have launched a 'health' platform of some kind."