A. Elizabeth Sloan

Snack innovators have set a torrid pace of new product introductions, and consumer trends suggest that they will find continued strong demand for their creativity. According to Technomic Inc.’s 2007 Snacking Report, 75% of consumers regularly snack during the midafternoon, 48% do so mid-evening, 39% late at night, and 33% mid-morning. Type of food defines snacks for 61% of consumers, time of day for 52%, and size for 32%. Feeling hungry with no time for a meal is still the top reason for snacking; flavor is the most important snack selection criterion.

Healthy snacks outsold indulgent snacks in U.S. food, drug, and mass merchandisers including Wal-Mart last year by a 5:1 ratio, according to Information Resources Inc.’s 2008 Snack Report. In 2008, two-thirds (69%) of consumers are trying to eat snacks that offer nutrition, reports IRI; that is up 3% over 2007. In addition, 65% are trying to replace high-calorie snacks, up 2%, and 42% want snacks that go beyond basic nutrition. For the year ended 9/9/07, sales of 100-calorie packs jumped 42%.

Multigrain snacks enjoyed a 26% jump in dollar sales for the year ended March 2008, per IRI. Nutritional trail mixes were up 19%, light chips 16%, rice/popcorn cakes 13%, natural string cheese 12%, snack/granola bars 11%, yogurt 8%, and dried fruit 7%. Eden Organic’s new snack packs include Wild Hand-Harvested Dried Blueberries.

Low fat remains the most important avoidance claim for consumers choosing a snack, followed by cholesterol, calories, sugar, and carbohydrates, according to Mintel’s February 2008 Healthy Snacking—U.S. report. When evaluating added-value claims (on a scale of 1–5, with 5 = very important), fiber ranks highest at 3.6, followed by nutrients and protein, each with a score of 3.5, all-natural 3.3, energy-boosting 3.0, packaged with smaller portions 2.9, and organic 2.6. Frito-Lay’s new lightly salted snacks will be a sure hit with the 65% of shoppers who have changed their food-buying habits due to high blood pressure (Food Marketing Institute’s 2008 Shopping for Health report).

Consumers also are turning to restaurants for snacks; snacking occasions accounted for 12.1 billion restaurant visits for the year ended May 2007, reports NPD/CREST. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of all snacks came from restaurants during this period.

Although snacks are still in their infancy in sit-down eateries, NPD statistics show that for the year ended May 2007, 60% of all fast-food restaurant growth came from snacks. Afternoon snacks accounted for nearly half of this growth. Technomic reports that nearly one-third of regular snackers buy and eat a mid-morning snack away from home, 25% purchase and consume a snack in midafternoon, 17% mid-evening, and 20% late evening. Au Bon Pain rolled out a small-plate, low-calorie menu called Au Bon Portions with 14 mix-and-match menu items. Wendy’s introduced three snack Chicken Go Wraps priced at $1.49 each. KFC has a Toasted Wrap for $1.29, and Applebee’s added Mini Chicken Ranchers.

With snack checks almost as high as breakfast checks, expect casual and fine dining to follow suit. Boomers are returning to restaurants, so bar snacks will gain in popularity. McCain Foods USA has introduced Brew City Cheddar Pints—beer-battered cheese curds. Sit-down restaurants should start quick pick-me-up gourmet snack stations to grab incremental snack business.

Young adults ages 18–34 index the highest for heavy snacking, followed by those ages 35–44, according to Experian Market Research. These groups also top the list of those who favor gourmet foods and spicy flavors. As a result, expect the hot and spicy snack trend to continue. Planter’s Chipotle Peanuts are "wicked hot." Mintel reports those ages 18–24 are most interested in trendy snacks. BrandStorm Inc.’s Himalania Wasabi Covered Goji Berries are a new sweet/spicy popable snack.

Empty Nesters’ penchant for partying is creating a demand for more sophisticated gourmet tidbits and cocktail companions. Frozen morsels such as Phillips Foods’ Asian Rhythms handmade frozen Crispy Dim Sum, Bernatello’s Bellatoria Bake-and-Slice Bruschetta, and Manchester Farms’ handmade Bacon Wrapped Chicken appetizers are right on target.

With dinner being eaten later and many children going to school earlier, a need for heartier, meal-like snacks for kids is also emerging. Ian’s Chicken Tenders now come in Italian Style. Oscar Mayer’s Deli Creations Flatbread Sandwiches use rising dough that keeps bread soft in the microwave.

CCF Brands’ Great Day Breakfast hand-held Piggies ‘n Blankets and Simplot Food Group’s Pancake Pods are bringing snacks into the breakfast arena. Jack-in-the-Box has added a Warm Cinnamon Roll breakfast snack to its menu.

by A. Elizabeth Sloan,
Contributing Editor 
President, Sloan Trends, Inc., Escondido, Calif. 
[email protected]