Worldwide Snack Sales at $374B Annually: Nielsen

Consumers around the globe spent $374 billion on snack foods annually between 2013 and 2014, a year-over-year increase of 2 percent, a new report from Nielsen has found. While Europe ($167 billion) and North America ($124 billion) account for the majority of global snack sales, yearly snack sales are actually growing faster in the still developing regions of Asia-Pacific ($46 billion) and Latin America ($30 billion), which increased 4 percent and 9 percent, respectively, while Middle East/Africa snack sales ($7 billion) rose 5 percent.

"The competitive landscape in the snacking industry is fierce," noted Susan Dunn, EVP, global professional services at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen. "Demand is driven primarily by taste and health considerations, and consumers are not willing to compromise on either. The right balance is ultimately decided by the consumer at the point of purchase. Understanding the 'why before the buy' provides the foresight necessary to deliver the right product to the right consumer at the right time."

The Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking polled 30,000-plus online consumers across 60 countries to find out which snacks are most popular around the world, and which health, taste and texture attributes are most important when selecting a snack.

What's Trending

Confections, including chocolate, hard candy and gum, make up the largest sales contribution to the total snack category in Europe ($46.5 billion) and the Middle East/Africa ($1.9 billion). Salty snacks contribute more than one-fifth of snack sales in North America ($27.7 billion), refrigerated snacks account for nearly one-third of snacks in Asia-Pacific ($13.7 billion), and cookies and snack cakes comprise more than one-fourth of all snacks in Latin America ($8.6 billion).

The fastest-growing snack segments, Nielsen found, were savory snacks, among them crackers, rice cakes and pita chips, sales of which increased 21 percent in the past year in Latin America; meat snacks, including jerky and dried meat, which rose 25 percent in the Middle East/Africa and 15 percent in North America; and refrigerated snacks, like yogurt, cheese snacks and pudding, which increased 6.4 percent in Asia-Pacific, while dips and spreads, such as salsa and hummus, grew 6.8 percent in Europe.

"Non-sugary snacks closely aligned with meal-replacement foods are showing strong growth, which signals a shift in a consumer mindset to one focused on health," observed Dunn. "While conventional cookies, cakes and confections categories still hold the majority of snack sales, more innovation in the healthy snacking and portable food space is necessary to adjust to this changing dynamic."

The Snack That Eats Like a Meal

More than three-quarters of global survey respondents (76 percent) said they eat snacks often or sometimes to curb their hunger between meals or to satisfy a craving, and 45 percent said they eat snacks instead of meals: 52 percent for breakfast, 43 percent for lunch and 40 percent for dinner.

"There is a perception that snacks are intended more for in-between meals than for actual meal replacements," said Dunn. "But busy, on-the-go lifestyles often dictate a need for quick meals, and many opt for fast-food options that can be high in calories and low in health benefits. There is a massive untapped opportunity to gain market share in the nutritious, portable and easy-to-eat meal alternative market that snack manufacturers could fill."

Matters of Taste

Respondents to Nielsen's survey also said that fresh fruit (18 percent) is the one snack they would pick above all others from a list of 47 choices, followed by chocolate (15 percent). Other, less popular selections were yogurt (6 percent), bread/sandwiches (6 percent), cheese (5 percent), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (5 percent), vegetables (5 percent) and ice cream/gelato (4 percent).

Nielsen further discovered that taste preferences in snacks differ widely around the world. For instance, larger-than-global-average percentages of respondents snack on vegetables in Asia-Pacific (57 percent), cheese in Europe (58 percent), ice cream/gelato in Latin America (63 percent) and potato/tortilla chips in North America (63 percent).

"In the dichotomy of snacking, consumers want healthy, but yet indulgent options are still going strong," remarked Dunn. "A better understanding of consumer demand and the need states that drive demographic profile preferences will help manufacturers crack the code on the right portfolio balance between indulgence and healthy. It will also increase the odds of success in this ultra-competitive landscape."

Ingredients for Success

Nielsen's study additionally uncovered the fact that globally, more consumers care about the absence of ingredients than the addition of them. Snacks with all-natural ingredients were described as "very important" by 45 percent of global respondents and "moderately important" by 32 percent, the highest percentages of the 20 health attributes featured in the study. No artificial colors (44 percent), genetically modified organisms (43 percent) and artificial flavors (42 percent) were also deemed "very important" by respondents, as were caffeine-free (23 percent) and gluten-free (19 percent).

Similarly, one-third of global respondents said it was "very important" for snacks to be low in sugar (34 percent), salt (34 percent), fat (32 percent) and calories (30 percent), and one-fourth of those polled said they preferred snacks with either low or no carbohydrates. By contrast, about one-third said they look for such "very important" beneficial ingredients as fiber (37 percent), protein (31 percent) and whole grains (29 percent).

Further, eco-conscious consumers rated snacks made from ingredients that are sourced sustainably (35 percent), that are organic (34 percent) and that contain local herbs (25 percent) as "very important."

Meanwhile, portion control proved "very important" for a little more than one-fourth of respondents (27 percent).

For additional insights into the global snacking patterns, go to the PG Expert Column by Nielsen’s James Russo, "Assessing the Snacking Habits of Consumers."

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