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Helping Shoppers Snack Smarter

Better-for-you alternatives satisfy sweet and savory cravings
Helping Shoppers Snack Smarter
Retailers can help consumers feel good and navigate the new normal by offering ways to snack smarter while keeping personal health and fitness in mind.

A long-standing relationship exists between food and mood, and snack foods are no exception. The NPD Group’s 2021 “Future of Snacking” report shows that the average U.S. consumer sought solace in snacks, eating 37% more snack foods and treats while feeling sad or depressed during the global pandemic than they did in pre-pandemic 2019. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, consumers turned to familiar comfort foods to help soothe feelings of sadness, boredom, stress or anxiety, or aid feelings of relaxation and calmness.

Mood-boosting snacks can be found in various categories. Recent NPD data indicates that consumers triggered by boredom choose savory snacks more often, while consumers feeling sad or depressed tend to reach for confections and other sweets. Retailers can help consumers feel good and navigate the new normal by offering ways to snack smarter while keeping personal health and fitness in mind.

Functional Snacks

Today’s snack category is peppered with familiar attribute claims such as organic, gluten-free, local, keto, vegan, high-protein and plant-based, to name just a few. Right now, however, shoppers are acutely focused on keeping themselves and their families safe and healthy. In turn, they want to support immunity and improve digestive health, largely because 70% to 80% of the body’s immune system is housed in the gastrointestinal tract. Retail dietitians can point consumers toward snacks high in fiber, such as fresh and dried fruit, oat-based bars, nuts, seeds, and bean-based chips and dips, along with fermented foods and yogurt-based products that tout live and active cultures. As pandemic-related concerns subside, expect functional snacks to broaden their focus to boosting memory and mental acuity; easing stress, anxiety and tension; and enhancing beauty, energy and sleep quality.   

The portability of a snack can ease the return to in-person work and school. Bear in mind that consumers are concurrently placing renewed emphasis on the importance of sustainability, favoring both portable and sustainable choices that minimize excess packaging. Edible utensils and straws are emerging in the retail market as tasty and novel parts of the solution. 

As consumers recommit to personal fitness routines, retail dietitians can suggest snack ideas and wholesome smoothie recipes geared to aid athletic pursuits before, during and after exercise. Retailers can provide consumers with a list of snack options that help build and repair lean muscle, combat inflammation, and aid post-workout energy repletion, electrolyte balance and recovery.

Shared-Experience Snacks

While consumers have cut back on travel, dining and other shared experiences, snack manufacturers have responded with bold, adventurous restaurant-inspired flavors for snacktime favorites. Chip and cracker seasonings evoke flavors of well-known sandwiches, grilled or roasted meats, and specific international cuisines. Innovations in ready-to-eat popcorn, a category poised for continued growth, feature vegan-friendly no-cheese versions of “cheese-flavored” popcorn, and kettle corn mixes featuring familiar sweet flavor profiles like cinnamon, caramel and vanilla, contrasted with savory sriracha, jalapeño, tajin, molè and spicy buffalo.

After the long-standing physical separation of people during the pandemic, pent-up demand will drive a return to social gatherings. Retail dietitians can conduct virtual how-to classes to instruct consumers on how to create grazing boards that combine bite-sized fresh fruits and vegetables, accompanied by flavorful cheeses, nuts, whole grain crackers, hummus, yogurt-based dips and spicy sauces. In addition, grocers can offer an innovative menu of made-to-order grazing boards for purchase in the prepared food department. 

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