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Back-to-school time is here and parents everywhere are stocking up on easy-to-serve snack foods to pack in their children’s lunch boxes. But it’s not just kids who love snacks—it’s everyone. Data company Nielsen looked at snack food sales around the world and found “a rare global growth story," in a category that is expected to reach $762 billion in global sales by 2024. In the U.S., this translates into a 14 percent average annual growth in food and beverage launches with a snacking claim, according to Innova Market Insights.
Millennials especially have embraced the “fourth meal,” a late night snack/meal option transforming the concept of three traditional meals a day into smaller “eating occasions” that can be eaten with more flexibility. According to information from IGA Red Oval partner Mondelēz International, 56 percent of people are now snacking three or more times a day and the trend of swapping out meals is growing exponentially. In fact, it's growing so fast the industry has even coined a new term for the conversion of three square meals a day to all-day snacking. Make way for "snackification."
So why the change? The reason is simple: our lives are busy. As people look to save time, some end up swapping breakfast, lunch, and dinner for quicker and easier snacks. The types of foods they turn to are changing, too. We’re not just talking about chips, candy, and cookies (although those categories are also experiencing growth). Innova Market Insights consumer research reveals U.S. snackers are turning to nuts and seeds, chocolate, and yogurt as the top three choices. Healthy options that help eaters meet daily requirements of fruits, vegetables, and the other food groups are also gaining ground, with a 44 percent growth in plant-based options.
What's the first step for getting your share of snackification sales? Start by finding out what’s on trend.
The concept: As people adopt more healthful eating practices, they are looking to “eat clean” and avoid products with preservatives, additives, artificial ingredients, etc.
Look for: All-natural options are key, emphasizing fewer ingredients. Organic and non-GMO options are a plus.
Product ideas: Dried fruits with no added sweeteners, salt-free and oil-free raw nuts, dark chocolate or cacao nibs, baked chips or chips fried in “healthier” oils, organic popcorn, gluten-free crackers.
Industry perspective: Jeff Schneider, customer business lead for the Supervalu team at Mondelēz International, describes the resurgence of snacking as a “balanced approach.” Both healthy and indulgent choices are having a significant impact on snacking growth.
“Core snack items from previous generations are once again becoming healthier snacking options," he said. "Non-GMO Triscuit crackers, Organic Triscuit and Ritz Crisp & Thins are some of these options. The items that continue to perform the best are the ones that consumers already know and trust and are now offering healthier options or unique flavor experiences.”
The concept: As we explored in this recent article on bakery growth, shoppers are willing to splurge on baked items they deem “worth the calories.” As consumers seek to strike a balance between health and indulgence, they turn to mini versions of sweet treats.
Look for: Smaller-sized treats and scaled-down portions.
Product ideas: Mini muffins, bite-sized brownies and cookies, mini cupcakes, smaller cheesecakes, donut holes, etc.
Industry perspective: Don’t overlook cookies! They continue to be a growth driver for the snacking category. When consumers want to reward themselves or indulge, cookies continue to be a top choice. "Even the healthiest people love to eat Oreo cookies," said Schneider.
The concept: High-protein, carb-free snacks that fit into keto and paleo diets.
Look for: Go beyond the high-sodium, high-fat traditional meat sticks with minimally processed, all-natural options. Try out snacks that offer combinations of sweet and savory or exotic flavors.
Product ideas: Jerky, meat snack sticks, protein bars.
The concept: Portable packaging for on-the-go convenience. Smaller-sized portions for a quick mini-meal.
Look for: Single servings, reclosable, pre-portioned snack packs. This trend has been around for a while now, with more and more product launches.
Product ideas: Single serve milks, drinkable yogurts, snackable cheese (paired with nuts and/or dried fruits), pre-cut vegetables and hummus, pre-cut fresh fruit.
The concept: Healthful foods that provide a quick meal option with minimal prep.
Look for: On-trend ingredients such as unusual nuts, seeds like flax and chia, ancient grains, hummus, avocado, seaweed, and hemp. Also on trend: interesting and ethnic-inspired spices and flavors, such as curry, chili, Mediterranean, etc.
Product ideas: Rethink ramen with elevated soups, rice bowls, and other heat-and-serve options.
Now that you’re an expert on today’s snack trends, consider strategies to let your busy shoppers know you’re ready to meet their snackification needs.
The old way of merchandising healthy snacks was to give them their own space in the specialty foods aisle, but the time has come to integrate them into the regular snack mix. An article from Grocery Dive looks at two studies that were conducted to try and boost healthier snacks in different placements around the store. One finding: mixing healthy products with indulgent favorites on endcaps and in the aisles boosted sales considerably. Sales of veggie chips increased a whopping 119 percent while pistachio sales went up 31 percent when they were merchandised with more indulgent snacks.
Think about “eating occasions,” which are the times of day people typically snack, and the types of foods they turn to. When you’re tuned in to how people snack, you can more effectively merchandise the products they’re looking for. For example, some of the areas poised to see the most growth in the next one to three years are adults looking for morning nourishment (breakfast on the go), young adults seeking a lift (like traditional candy, cookies, etc.) and the afternoon social (AKA the after-school snack). Use these themes to create special signage and product placement throughout the store. Above all, make it easy for people to grab their eating occasion snacks and go by creating a variety of displays at checkout or in a designated snack area: think fresh with single-serving-sized cut fruit, hummus and pita chips, or store-made dips and bakery sweets for indulgent bites. Or promote snack-sized meal solutions from your favorite brands.
Snack area at McKim's IGA in Mt. Vernon, Indiana
Kids' lunch snack packs display at Noosa Outlook IGA in Tewantin, Queensland Australia
Speaking of special occasions, don’t overlook the role holidays play in the snacking surge.
For example, Oreo is enjoying a banner year due in part to the success of its limited edition flavors, said Schneider. Some special product flavors are linked to seasons and holidays, like Easter Egg Oreo cookies and Maple Creme Oreo cookies for the fall, and these offerings generate excitement because of the short time they are available. Build holiday-themed snack stations throughout the store and promote the “blink and you’ll miss it” timeframe these snacks will be available.
Smaller portions are in, but so are family and party sizes because they tend to fit the increased snacking occasions that are reflected in our changing lifestyles, said Schneider. “For smaller retailers trying to fit as many items as possible onto your shelves, you might be inclined to only carry the smaller sizes,” he said. “But in this particular case, you’d be better off with a mix of larger packages to address more snacking occasions. That’s what consumers are telling us they want and the retailer advantage is huge.” This tactic is especially attractive to budget-conscious shoppers who benefit from the bulk discount and are willing to portion out the product at home.