"Consumption behavior is like the movement of tectonic plates, it changes just a little bit each year," so said NPD Group's Food & Beverage Industry Analyst Darren Seifer, during Wednesday morning's panel at the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo, held this week in Chicago.
Speaking on the latest health and wellness trends, particularly with regard to snacking behavior, Seifer noted that 39 percent of meal preparers say they try to avoid eating in between meals entirely, compared to 71 percent who said the same in 1986.
Further underscoring a shift in consumer perceptions and behavior over the last 20 years, sugar has replaced fat as the No. 1 ingredient that consumers aim to omit from their diets. In fact, 65 percent of all consumers try to steer clear of sugar, followed by fat at 64 percent, with sodium (62 percent) and cholesterol (61 percent) rounding out the top four.
Additionally, when segmenting snacks into three categories – better-for-you snacks (fresh fruit, yogurt), savory snacks (chips, pretzels) and sweet snacks (cookies, candy) – consumer behavior has seen a fairly substantial shift, even as recently as 2006.
According to NPD data, savory is up 3 percent since 2006; sweet is down 6 percent since that same time; and better-for-you has seen a 14 percent increase. And according to Seifer, projections find that savory will top the better-for-you segment by 2018.
Additional trends dominating current snacking habits, Seifer says, include the blurring of snack items and foods traditionally consumed during a meal. In fact, instances of snacks foods eaten at a main meal occasion are up 4.5 percent; conversely, main meal foods eaten at between-meal occasions have increased 4.6 percent.
When it comes to CPG innovation and marketing, Seifer concluded, it's important for manufacturers and retailers alike to be transparent in their approach to snack items.
"If you're going for the better-for-you route, continue to be transparent, to make claims that bloggers won't respond negatively to," Seifer said. "If you're going to be indulgent, claim to be a reward. Focus on how consumers seek to treat themselves, and protect your brand equity."