America's knack for snacks

From Mondelēz International Foodservice.

As a nation, America has a huge crush on snacking. The practice of supplementing or replacing ordinary meals with tasty nibbles is a significant business opportunity in all foodservice segments. There is a big payoff waiting for operators who follow a concerted category management approach to understanding snacking behavior and providing the products and brands that consumers seek.

The fact is, eating habits have changed dramatically in recent years. For example, the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2014 chef’s survey includes grazing (e.g. small-plate sharing/snacking instead of traditional meals) and half-portions/smaller portions for a smaller price among the top 20 hottest trends. Technomic’s Ten Trends for 2014 finds that consumers are less likely to eat three square meals per day and more likely to “nosh, skip meals, eat breakfast for dinner and vice versa.”  

In fact, the desire to cater to the “snacking lifestyle,” as Technomic terms it, is leading limited-service restaurants to offer more snack-size, handheld items and packages made for snacking in cars, such as snack cups that fit car console cup holders. What’s more, “many operators are also stepping up their game with grab-and-go and market-style offerings” designed for mobile munchers, Technomic says.

For their part, full-service eateries also are plying the snacking trend, promoting menu pairings, trios and flights that allow patrons variety and flexibility and encourage the “snacking and sharing ethos,” while paying less attention to conventional “meat and potatoes meals,” Technomic said.

Overall, what makes snacking so exciting for operators is how far reaching it is. “Consumers seek snacks that act as mini-meals to keep them satiated throughout the day,” according to SymphonyIRI Group’s State of the Snack Industry presentation last year. Early morning snacks account for 11 percent of eating occasions, morning snacks 19 percent, afternoon snacks 26 percent and evening and late-evening snacks each represent 22 percent.

There is a breed of snacker who considers nutritional criteria when making snack purchase decisions. SymphonyIRI noted that “45 percent of consumers seek snacks that offer benefits beyond ordinary nutrition” and “30 percent of consumers view snacks as part of a healthy eating plan throughout the day.”

Operators can play up this angle by including some healthful options for snackers who look for good-for-you products from time to time.

The growing array of snack options for the nutrition-minded consumer includes nuts, hummus, nutrition bars, trail mixes, Greek yogurt cups, cheese sticks, packaged wrap sandwiches, crackers, breakfast biscuits and meat snacks. Also in the mix are snacks made with nuts, fruits or whole grains and products that call out attributes such as “high protein,” “organic” or “natural.”

Still, health consciousness notwithstanding, 56 percent of consumers “often snack for enjoyment, not out of hunger” and 55 percent of consumers “are more likely to eat what tastes good rather than what is healthier,” according to SymphonyIRI.

The logical conclusion is that flavorful snacks such as cookies, mini cakes, brownie bites, chocolate and the like will maintain a place in consumers’ hearts and a key role in the product lineup.