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The Great American Snack Fest: The Snackification of Meals

2017 Trend Report - Filling the growing gap between meals

There was a time when a snack was considered a between-meal treat that Americans ate on occasion. But snacking has become an integral part of our culture, and its frequency and prevalence have picked up dramatically over the years. The definition of “snack” has proven to be flexible, stretching so far that snacks have become convenient, on-the-go substitutes for time-consuming sit-down meals.

Filling the Growing Gap Between Meals

Only half of American adults surveyed say they always have three meals a day, meaning 50% skip at least one.1

As snacks have evolved to become more wholesome and nutritious, with an ever-expanding array of flavor varieties to satisfy a wide spectrum of preferences, more and more millennials are opting out of full meals in favor of snacking. Snacking has become so popular and widespread that 94% of Americans snack at least once a day, half of adults two to three times a day. It’s also so broadly defined that 70% agree that any food item can be considered a snack.2 Snacking now accounts for half of all eating occasions,3 and as America’s largest demographic group, millennials are leading the charge for the snackification of meals.

Millennials are the most avid snackers, with one in four considered “Super Snackers” for partaking four or more times a day.3 While 78% of millennials adhere to the old rationale of snacking as a way to tide yourself over between meals, 64% find it an affordable form of meal replacement.3 Modern snacking’s mix of affordability, convenience and wellness is an extremely appealing recipe for cash-strapped, super-busy and well-being oriented millennials, helping to spur 92% of them to replace meals with snacks at least once a week.4 What’s more, 26% do so up to seven times a week.4

While snacking may be popular across demographic groups, millennials are out-snacking other generations, establishing snack consumption as a way of life and source of nutrition as well as enjoyment. Millennials have extended snacking across dayparts, making it an open-ended phenomenon. “Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats,” explains Amanda Topper, a food analyst at the research firm Mintel. “Millennials are also more likely than older generations to indicate snacks with added nutrition and flavor variety are important to them. As a result, they may be drawn to products with high fiber, energizing claims, or protein content to stay satiated as well as bold flavors to help add variety to their frequent snacking occasions and eliminate boredom.”3

Snacks as Fuel for Mealtime Sales

As consumer eating patterns change to accommodate busy lifestyles and as demand for better-for-you options with high nutritional value grows, products that combine convenience, function and flavor become increasingly appealing.

Breakfast foods that deliver this combination have become popular anytime snacks. 68% of breakfast eaters surveyed reported that they usually grab a food item with functional ingredients like ancient grains before heading out in the morning.5 Wholesome cereal mixes and granola bars are trending grab-and-go breakfast options that can be enjoyed as snacks anytime during the day. Survey data shows that over a quarter of consumers think the “ideal bar” is a replacement for traditional breakfast. 33% of those who eat snack, nutrition, and/or protein bars said they prefer products that are high fiber, while 32% cite the importance of high protein.5

Anytime, anywhere snacking crosses daypart boundaries and blurs the distinction between snack and meal. With nine out of ten consumers eating a snack within every 24-hour period6, it makes sense to take a broad view of snacking and ensure product assortments can accommodate millennial demand for quick options that deliver value, flavor and wholesomeness. By doing so, foodservice operators not only feed their customers; they help nourish business throughout the day.

1 Added Value Q3 2015

2Mintel, “A Snacking Nation: 94% of Americans Snack Daily,” July 9, 2015

3 Huff, Skyler, The Snack Hack, FutureCast, Feb. 7, 2017

4Lacsamana, Pauline “92 Percent of Millennials Replace Meals with Snacks at Least Once a Week,” The Daily Meal, March 8, 2017

5FONA International, “Five Trends in Breakfast,” Feb. 1, 2016

6Hartman Group, “Spotlight on Snacking: A Heartbeat Special Edition,” March 15, 2016

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