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Snack Attack

Remember when a snack was considered a decadent indulgence?

Not anymore. Snacking has become a daypart in itself, with consumers seeking snack-style sustenance almost 24/7.

“Snacking is fundamentally changing the way consumers eat food in America, with 81 percent of consumers saying they snack at least once a day, and 23 percent saying they intend to snack more in the future,” says "Snacker Nation," a new white paper released in June 2015 by Sullivan Higdon & Sink (SHS) FoodThink, an advertising and marketing agency that focuses on food value chain marketing.

Those findings mirror data from other food industry sources.

In a 2014 update to its "Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report," Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc. reveals that consumers eat snacks between meals and as meal replacements. “Nearly half of consumers—49 percent—eat snacks between meals, and 45 percent replace one or two daily meals with a snack,” Technomic reports.

Similarly, "Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors," a 2014 study from the Bellevue, Wash.-based The Hartman Group, shows that 50 percent of today's meal occasions “…aren’t traditional meals but are snacks or mini-meals.”

Why Snack Sales are Surging

The recent uptick in sales underscores just how prevalent snacking has become.

According to "Snacker Nation," snack sales in the U.S. are projected to grow to $47.5 billion in 2015, up from $34.2 billion in 2005.

“Consumers’ evolving definition of what constitutes a snack is one of many driving factors in our country’s snacking surge,” the report explains.

The fact that those consumers want to snack morning, afternoon and night also is fueling sales.

“Think late-night, sports and breakfast-fillers. Midnight cereal chomping, energy-dense sports snacks and on-the-go breakfast replacements are just some of the trends set to shape the snacking market [in 2015],” says "Five Opportunities for Snacking in 2015," a report from Datamonitor Consumer. The report pinpoints untapped potential for driving growth in the snacking sector by identifying new consumption occasions and consumer segments to target.

Post-meal and the increasingly popular post-midnight/“fourth meal” timeframes are key dayparts to consider, while active consumers and breakfast skippers are among consumers to appeal to, Datamonitor suggests.

"Snacker Nation" goes even further, breaking consumers into five distinct snacker segments: "the Healthy Snacker,” "the Bored Snacker,” "the Starving Snacker,""the Non-Snacker,” and "the Social Snacker.”

What Snackers Want  

As the line between snacks and meals becomes increasingly blurred, consumers have higher expectations for what snacks should deliver than ever before.

“Consumers expect [snacks] to do more for them than ever—in terms of the physical, emotional, social and cultural experiences they offer,” finds "Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors."

According to the Technomic snack study, 50 percent of today’s consumers say healthfulness is very important to them when choosing a snack, and 60 percent of today's consumers, compared with 55 percent in 2012, cite portability as an important or extremely important factor when choosing a snack.

Savvy retailers are taking note and beginning to tailor snack offerings to meet consumers’ demands.

Based on The Hartman Group’s research, Wegmans Food Markets made healthy snacks a company priority for 2015 and even held focus group sessions with employee volunteers to learn more about their snacking habits. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said healthful snacks should be made from whole real foods, starting with fruit and veggies, and should offer “good” fats and proteins; 73 percent said the snacks should have no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and should offer organic choices, where possible, Heather Pawlowski, Wegmans VP and champion of healthy snacking, told Store Brands magazine last February.

In regards to how retailers and CPG companies decide to approach snack products, one thing is clear: Snacking is no longer limited to consumers who want to splurge on an occasional, unhealthy treat. 

As "Snacker Nation" concludes, “The snacking trend is fundamentally changing the way we eat food in America. And with that, it presents a growth strategy for many brands. Marketers who can introduce new, fun, healthy and/or convenient ways to snack will better connect with a large snacking community.”

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