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Snacking Realities: Challenge or Opportunity?

By Jennifer Sikora, VP of Market Insights, CivicScience

Healthy snacking and doing it more frequently to lessen hunger at meal time... This is a mantra we’ve been hearing for years to help reduce caloric intake. But consumer research data tells a disconnected story, and makers and retailers of snacking products should pay close attention.

Using data at CivicScience, an April 2015 study of more than 2,300 U.S. consumers obtained a clearer profile on who is snacking the most between meals, and their snack preferences. They were asked: “Yesterday, how often did you snack or eat food between main meals?” over a six-day period. At a high level, we learned the following: 51 percent of consumers snacked more than twice in a day; 29 percent only snacked once; and 20 percent did not snack at all. Snacking two or more times per day happened at a higher rate on a Saturday.

But none of that is necessarily surprising; it’s when we dig deeper into the profiles of these snackers (and non-snackers) that we learn some telling things.


Based on the insights, more frequent snacking on the whole corresponds with greater caloric consumption and a less healthy lifestyle. Among those consumers who snack multiple times a day (let’s call them “multi-snackers”), in general they skew slightly toward women, and among age groups, the under 18, 18-24 and 35-44 groups snacked more than average – meaning some portion of Millennials fit into this segment.

Multi-snackers are somewhat more likely to prefer sweet snacks than do single snackers or non-snackers. In fact, the more often someone snacks, the higher overall their preference for sweet snacks.

When it comes to lifestyle attributes, 25 percent of multi-snackers say that TV is important or a passion of theirs, compared to 20 percent of single snackers and 15 percent of non-snackers who say this. Multi-snackers are more likely to watch more hours of TV in an average day. They are 66 percent more likely than single snackers to say that the reason they don’t eat healthier is “not enough time / too much work.” This is two times the number of non-snackers who say the same. Also, multi-snackers are more likely than single or non-snackers to see themselves as less physically attractive than others their age and gender.

So if this group overall is not choosing frequent snacking as a way to drive a healthy lifestyle, then who is turning to healthy snacks the most?

Healthy Snackers

The healthy snacker group in general skews older and is much more wellness-minded. Nearly half (48 percent) of them are over the age of 55 compared to 38 percent of all U.S. adults who fall into that age group, and they are the most likely to only snack once per day. They are 87 percent more likely than others to buy organic food regularly, and 50 percent more likely to exercise at least several times per week.

The Challenges

This data sheds light on a snack foods marketing challenge -- or opportunity -- depending on the perspective. Those who represent the largest potential market (the multi-snackers, at 51 percent) are generally not making purchase decisions based on health, but on convenience. That said, developing, packaging and marketing snack products that align with their tastes and buying tendencies could be a winning strategy.

Meanwhile, the challenge with healthy snackers is that they consume between meals less frequently and may be less likely to grab a "packaged" snack product. However, the data did find that they care about brand when shopping for grocery products, which may be useful to existing large brands that can leverage familiarity.

An additional challenge suggested by other data found in the CivicScience study is that both segments are less likely than the general population to exhibit “market maven” tendencies, meaning they are less likely to try new product offerings and brands before others and are also less likely to evangelize by telling others about products they try. Instead, more market maven-type consumers were found in the non-snacking group. The good news for healthy snack marketers is that, when market mavens do snack, while they may not do it often, they are more likely to prefer healthy products.

Hopefully this study shows how lifestyle attributes need to be more closely studied and considered when thinking about snacking consumers.

About the CivicScience Methodology

CivicScience collects real-time consumer research intelligence via polling applications that run on hundreds of U.S. publisher websites, cycling through thousands of active questions on any given day. Respondents answer voluntarily answer the online poll questions with no compensation – they answer for fun and are kept anonymous, allowing for greatly reduced bias and higher levels of engagement. The 2,313 respondents for this report were polled from April 10-16, 2015 and were weighted for U.S. Census representativeness for gender and age, 13 years and older. 

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