Research from the International Food Information Council shows a significant uptick in daily snacking among Americans, from roughly 59% in 2020 and 2021 to 73% in 2022. Compared with meals, snacking contributes more energy than breakfast and slightly less than lunch as a percent of daily calories. Although snacking has increased at all times of the day, late afternoon between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. is the most common time to have at least one snack.
What Foods Do Snackers Choose?
Morning snackers are more likely to choose fruit or dairy — such as cheese, yogurt or smoothies — while evening snackers often choose savory, salty snacks, followed by chocolate, candy, cookies, cake and ice cream. Selection of nuts and seeds as snacks increased sharply, up double digits. Sweets are still the most commonly consumed snacks in the United States, representing more than one-third of snack energy, while 17% of snack energy comes from chips and crackers. Consumers often compensate for snack energy by increasing energy expenditure through activity or reducing calorie intake throughout the day.
Stress has a strong connection to snacking habits: 29% of those who have been “very stressed” in the past six months snack three or more times a day, compared with just 10% of those who’ve been “somewhat stressed.” Other reasons cited for snacking include being hungry or thirsty; a desire for a treat; the need for energy; the convenient, habit-forming nature of snacking; a specific desire for a salty or sweet taste; or simply to counteract boredom.
What Benefits Do Snackers Seek?
Snackers report seeking snacks that will boost energy and reduce fatigue; aid weight loss and boost metabolism; manage digestive and gut health; improve heart health; decrease inflammation and manage glucose response; improve sleep quality and immune function; maximize muscle strength, bone health and exercise endurance; improve memory, cognition and mental focus; and prevent cancer.
Snacking to Fill Gaps
Retailers should consider various opportunities to measurably improve snack quality and fill significant energy, variety and nutrient gaps. Research shows that more than half of dietary nut and seed consumption and 43% of whole fruit consumption come from snacks, while just 18% of whole grain intake and only 8% of vegetable intake come from snacks. Perhaps the largest opportunity lies with increasing total dietary fiber intake; currently, just 5% of Americans get the recommended amount of dietary fiber they need each day.
Guide Shoppers Toward Personalized Snacks
While the act of snacking has become a ubiquitous part of our food culture, it can be hard for consumers to choose healthy snacks that also fit their budgets, schedules and flavor preferences. Retail dietitians can help shoppers rethink snack choices. For example, point exercise enthusiasts to pre-workout fuel or post-workout recovery to help repair muscle and replenish stored energy. Present busy parents of school-age children with healthy, portable snacks the whole family will eat. Guide individuals working from home to stock up on mini (100- to 300-calorie) meals they can eat between back-to-back Zoom calls. No matter what consumers want in a snack, grocery retailers have better-for-you, personalized snacking solutions to offer.