A. Elizabeth Sloan

Consumers are snacking much more frequently. According to Technomic Inc.’s 2012 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, about half (48%) of the population snacks at least twice a day, double the 2010 level of 25%.

Seven in 10 snacks are eaten in the home, reports Technomic. Fresh fruit, crackers/cookies, cereal, potato chips/pretzels, ice cream, and cheese are the most popular at-home snacks. Workplace snacking is also on the rise along with brownbagging snacks to work.

With those ages 18–34 driving the net gain in snacking behavior, the snack market will continue to grow. Packaged Fact’s Snack Foods in the U.S. report projects that U.S. retail sales of packaged snacks will top $76.8 billion by 2015. Drug and convenience stores posted volume gains in snack sales in 2011, according to SymphonyIRI data.

Three-quarters of consumers snack in the midafternoon, Technomic reports. Four in 10 snack in the midmorning, mid-evening, and late at night; a.m. snacking rose 9% since 2010, according to Technomic. Indulgent snacks (e.g., ice cream, salty snacks, chocolate, snack nuts, and cookies) are most prevalent in the evening; fruit, baked goods, and coffee/tea are common midmorning.

Flavor/taste, cited by 83% of those polled, trumps all other factors in the snack purchase; 39% are motivated by new or unique flavors, explains Technomic. IRI reports that 34% of consumers are willing to pay more for gourmet snacks, up from 18% in 2009. According to a 2012 report from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, gourmet chips, pretzels, and snacks were the third-largest specialty food category with sales of $1.8 billion in 2011. With 75% of adults considering snacks as an important part of social occasions and 37% entertaining family/friends at home vs going out in 2012, gourmet snacks and appetizers will continue to be in high demand, IRI data suggests.

Sales volume for healthy snacks continued to outpace indulgent snacks in 2011, but by a smaller margin than in the past five years. Just under half of consumers are snacking on healthier items in 2012, according to Technomic. The nutritional snacks/trail mix category was the top sales volume gainer among healthy snacks in 2011, up 11.1%, reports IRI. Hummus was also hot, according to IRI, with sales up 10.5%.

The types of foods Americans are eating as snacks have broadened. In 2011, sales of refrigerated appetizers/snack rolls were up 5.9%, hand-held breakfast entrees +3.6, and frozen appetizers/snack rolls +3.3%, according to IRI. These categories were right behind chocolate-covered salted snacks, with sales up 8.6%, and dried meat snacks, +6.0%, as the top volume gainers among indulgent snacks in 2011, per IRI.

More than half (55%) of consumers eat restaurant French fries/onion rings, 54% single hamburgers/small sandwiches, and 49% a slice of restaurant pizza as away-from-home snacks, reports Technomic. Expect mini ethnic morsels (e.g., empanadas, pupusas, etc.) to become a strong snack sector.

Mini desserts/bites rank ninth on the list of hot menu items in fast food in 2012; snack-sized items are 15th, according to the National Restaurant Assn.’s (NRA)What’s Hot? survey. Egg rolls, nachos, quesadillas, spring rolls, and hummus are among the most-ordered restaurant appetizers, according to Technomic’s 2010 Appetizer Consumer Trend Report. Vegetarian items, ethnic street-food-inspired appetizers, charcuterie, and bite-sized hors d’oeuvres are the top trendy appetizers for 2012, per the NRA survey.

Three in 10 snacks consumed in 2012 were beverages, according to Technomic. Restaurant/beverage bar coffee sales are projected to reach $20.7 billion by 2017, tea $9.7 billion, according to Packaged Fact’s Coffee and Tea Foodservice Trends in the U.S. report.

While two-thirds (67%) of consumers eat granola, cereal, or breakfast bars, only 28% are users of energy bars, a statistic that is virtually unchanged since 2007–2008. Half (56%) of consumers look for snacks that offer an energy boost; 78% seek products that are filling. Sales volume of snacks carrying a high protein tag jumped 28% in 2011, according to IRI.

No trans fat and “beyond basic nutrition” (e.g., antioxidants) are the most desired healthy snack product attributes, cited by 60% of consumers; fresh/not processed, whole grain, low fat, high fiber, all natural, low calorie, no preservatives/additives, low sugar, low cholesterol, and vitamins/minerals were cited by more than 50% of consumers, according to IRI.

IRI reports that 78% of parents want snacks with added nutrients for their kids; 59% seek fresh/not processed, 56% lower fat, and 43% lower calorie—all up significantly in the past two years. Lastly, portion size is emerging as a snack concern for women; two-thirds (67%) of women say it is important that the portion size is not too large, Technomic reports.


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