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Snacking: No Rules, No Boundaries, Lots of Flavor

March 19, 2015

There are so many rules when it comes to eating a meal. We all know them: no elbows on the table, don’t talk with your mouth full, put your napkin in your lap and the ever exalted, don’t eat between meals. While some of those are basic good manners and necessary for good hygiene and conversation (eating soup while talking is never a good idea), the last rule, once thought to be necessary for weight control and mealtime enjoyment, has broken the barrier. Eating between meals is now the reality with 90% of consumers snacking throughout the day and 7% of these consumers forgoing meals altogether in favor of all day snacking. Dubbed “modern snacking,” snacking is now more fluid with fewer rules and structure, freeing consumers to eat whenever and however they want.

The Evolution of the Snack

So how did it happen? How did snacking become a daypart in its own right? Largely driven by necessity due to consumers’ fast-paced, gotta-have-it-now lives, the rules surrounding our eating culture have changed and the traditional 1950s standard of breakfast, lunch and dinner eaten at the same time every day has gone by the wayside.

Once coveted as a treat, snacking has also become central to consumers’ healthy lifestyles with 62% of today’s snacking now involving some kind of health & wellness goal. Instead of the sandwich cookies from their childhoods, consumers are reaching for fresh and healthy alternatives for their snacking choices. And, nutrient dense foods are growing in the snack aisle such as sprouted, cultured and high protein.

What are consumers choosing to satisfy their daily snacking needs? While fruit is welcome at most any time of day, the mid-morning’s protein shake will not cut it at 3 p.m. when most consumers are looking for something a little saltier and more carb based. In fact, carbs are the basis for most snacks throughout the day, with bars or breads starring in mid-morning and salty snacks taking over for the rest of the day. Of course, sweet treats have their place, as consumers occasionally desire indulgence and comfort later in the day.

The Many Sides of Fresh

We mentioned earlier that consumers are all about “fresh.” What’s interesting is the broad set of attributes that consumers associate with “fresh.” According to the Hartman Group, the central symbols of fresh include:

• Absence of Negatives – no trans fats, hydrogenated oils, HFCS, chemicals, GMO
• Presence of Positives – organic, local, seasonal
• Short Ingredient List – ≤ 5 ingredients
• Perishable or Short Shelf Life – refrigerated, expiration date
• Known Processing Method – “Something I could make at home,” artisanal or traditional
• Minimal Packaging – recyclable materials, simple graphics
• Somewhat Exclusive – available at specialty grocers, foodie gourmet cues

But It Better Taste Beyond Good

Healthy? Required. But let’s face it – a good snack ought to taste better than good and ought to tempt consumers with bright, bold flavors. Consumers desire flavors from a variety of sources. Whether tasted during their travels or spotted in their neighborhood, flavors that sometimes give a playful nod to global experiences or to the hyper-local are attractive to consumers. Manufacturers are accomplishing this by using familiar favorites like a cheese stick or salty snack and adding smoked flavors or unique spices to satisfy the consumer’s need for exotic and local flavor. And whether a Millennial or Boomer, savvy consumers care about flavor distinction and local, seasonal foods.

Snack Proud

Product developers and consumers alike can celebrate the shift in snacking. Consumers no longer have to hide while eating that leftover mushroom avocado taco over the kitchen sink first thing in the morning or hang their head in shame for that half a turkey sandwich on 9-grain at midnight. And for product developers, it means more creativity on the benchtop. With consumers’ snacking obsession and the shift to all day consumption, the options are limitless. Snacking is here to stay. Let the games begin.

Source Consumer Snacking: Knowledge Review and Synthesis, The Hartman Group