Consumer Snacking Priorities: The What, When and Why

June 24, 2015

With 50% of all eating occasions being made up of snacks, consumers of all ages have become big snackers—and their choices being driven by convenience and a variety of other factors. What they’re choosing to snack on as the day progresses and what motivates them to indulge in that mid-day munch or late-night nosh will start your creative application wheels turning. Here is the info you need as we open the bag on consumers’ snacking habits.

It’s a snacking kind of world these days. With 90% of consumers admitting to snacking four or more times each day, the snacking culture is firmly entrenched and the traditional breakfast/lunch/dinner model of the early to mid-1900’s is, pun intended, out to lunch(1). Consequently, we here at Edlong felt there was a vast landscape to uncover and so we commissioned a proprietary snacking study exploring the changes in consumers’ snacking habits and what satisfies them all day long. For this post, we are spotlighting why consumers snack and what they choose to satisfy their need to nosh.

The Snacking Occasions

What usually drives consumers to snack? Consumer eating occasions fall under two categories: instrumental or savoring. Instrumental eating can be defined as eating for satiety, wellness or dietary control while savoring is eating for pleasure, engagement or sociability. When you add the thought that 50% of eating occasions are now considered snacking occasions, consumers are doing a whole lot of nibbling throughout the course of the day—and there is a lot more expected from a snack today than an apple or hot summer day ice cream treat. That begs the question: what is guiding consumers’ food choices?

The Snacking Motivators

When it comes right down to it, today’s snack-loving consumers increasingly choose a snack based on two primary urges: health and wellness (H+W) and indulgence. Sometimes it’s one or the other; sometimes the lines become blurry and one snack has the qualities that satisfy both criteria. Here are the snacks consumers choose most for each:

Health and Wellness: Consumers are choosing snacks that they feel to be healthy. And they see eating well as the solution to managing their overall health and the key to a high quality of life. Their choices include:

  • BARS: A favorite especially for the mid-morning snack, bars have everything consumers want in a healthy snack. Versatile, convenient with a wide variety of flavors and formats, bars have the health halo consumers seek. A bar with high protein and high fiber ingredients with limited sugar and processed ingredients will be a winner with consumers.
  • DAIRY BEVERAGES: A category with loads of snacking potential, dairy beverages are sometimes chosen as meal replacements, but also as post-workout or mid-morning snacks. Dairy beverages are convenient sources of healthy nutrients, and help with weight control and satiation. Depending upon the consistency, a dairy beverage can also cross over into indulgence with the thicker protein shakes that fill up health-conscious consumers. A less familiar dairy beverage, kefir, is gaining popularity as an easily digestible, lower sugar option in the dairy beverage category. While consumers may not be currently familiar with it, 31% said they would be open to trying Kefir, reflecting consumers’ healthy open minds.

Indulgence: Still the cravings and the need for indulgence have to be satisfied… every now and then. And snack-loving consumers find the indulgent snacking pangs striking in the afternoon and evenings, usually with something salty or crunchy—because with indulgence, it’s all about texture. Consumers typically choose:

  • SALTY SNACKS: Whether they are eating them in social occasions or alone, snackers love salty snacks. And they are typically enjoyed later in the day, behind fruit or in the evening, second to sweet snacks. Salty snacks are easy to eat, familiar in flavor, and have that irresistible texture and crunch which makes them comforting as well. They could be labeled the perfect snack when whole grains, legumes and fiber are added and sugar and salt is limited. The buttery, flakey, crisp texture of crackers makes them an indulgent snack. Seen as a permissible indulgence, crackers function as a great vehicle for healthy toppings, like hummus, and consumer satisfaction will further increase by the addition of cheesy, buttery flavors and sea salt. Most eaten in social situations, crackers satisfy as a convenient snack for positive nutrition.

H+W/Indulgent: One snack category crosses over between healthy and indulgent. Meet the perfect snack:

  • NUTS/SEEDS: Already viewed by consumers as a natural snack, nuts could be the optimal snack. Nuts are nutrient dense, convenient, portable, have a healthy reputation and a fabulous crunch—they satisfy on all fronts. Little needs to be added to nuts to make them desirable to consumers. Actually, this is one category where less is more. Spicy or ethnic flavors are accepted as long as they are natural and sugar is minimized.


While we know much about snacking, there are two factors that trump all others: taste and convenience. The challenge for manufacturers is creating a convenient, nutrient-dense product with natural ingredients and flavors that involves minimal processing —and most importantly, TASTES GREAT. Satisfy all of these factors and you will have a winning application.

That wraps up a peek at what consumers are munching on to satisfy health and indulgence objectives. As the lines between meals and snacks fall away, the opportunities for great-tasting, convenient innovation become endless. We have become such a snacking society that the next generation might even be called “Gen-S”… for snack.

1. Hartman, Edlong Snacking Overview, page 16.
2. Ibid, page 12.
3. Ibid, page 11.
4. Ibid, page 14.
5. Hartman, Edlong Snacking Report, page 46.
6. Hartman, Edlong Snacking Overview, page 70.