The Snackification of the United States

Posted December 1, 2021 by Alyssa Stahr

Are three square meals a day a thing of the past? According to a recent webinar, “Unlocking the Power of the Snack,” larger, traditional meals are being replaced by a wide array of foods during just about any time of day. The “what” and “when” of snacking were covered, along with innovative product launches the panel of experts showcased that addressed snack trends of late.

I’m a person who almost never snacks in the “traditional snacking way.” I subscribe to three meals a day, and I never eat in between. It’s rare that I eat after 7 p.m. I’m a creature of habit, and Michelle Dekinder-Smith, president and founder of Linkage Research & Consulting explained that my eating habits are more in the minority each passing year.

“Snacking has become ubiquitous; nearly everybody is snacking,” she said. “The younger you are, the more snacking occasions you have throughout the day.”

Linkage tracks 1,000 U.S. adults from 18 to 75, and in October, the 10-day diary included data for every day of the week:

  • 95% said they snack sometimes; 49% are snacking at least three times a day
  • The younger you are, the more snacking occasions you have throughout the day.
  • Skipping meals is commonplace; one in five consumers replace a meal with a snack on any given day.
  • On the weekends, more people skip breakfast or lunch, opting for snacks.
  • Prime snack time is between 2 and 4 p.m.; 9 and 11 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.
  • Most snacking happens at home, marking the pandemic impact.
  • Snacks are no doubt driven by hunger, but emotions drive one third of snacking.

Snackers claim more emphasis on healthy snacking, but Lynn Dornblaser, director innovation and insight, Mintel, said in the webinar that less frequent snackers consider themselves at a normal weight, where more snackers see themselves as obese. Consumers are looking for more controlled calorie packs.

“What’s the next great horizon that delivers on portion control?” Dekinder-Smith asked. “The old ideas of dieting; it’s just not the same. People are following a lifestyle philosophy that helps them maintain their weight. But, what we do know is that today’s consumer is NOT interested in artificial sweeteners.”

With 20% of those polled intentionally replacing meals with a snack, generational behavior comes into play. However, across the board, snackers are avoiding anything artificial, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners, gluten, and they’re following natural trends: sustainable foods, antibiotic and hormone free foods, non-GMO.

Dornblaser noted that consumers want two things: to be happier and to live longer. 

“Through the lens of snacking, that’s great news!” she said. “Anything can be a snack.”

Even though the numbers were down a little bit, according to the Mintel presentation, grocery store shelves welcomed plenty of innovative snacks in 2020 and 2021 from all types of companies. And, these snacking products benefit what consumers are looking for: fun, indulgence and experimentation.

Millennial consumers in particular are focused on trying new things, Dornblaser said. It’s  prime parenthood time, so they’re looking for improved lactation, keto and brain health for starters.

Cost is always going to be of concern for consumers, which could be a reason for the decline of health-focused claims and bar introductions in the past year. Other categories with health benefits that have opportunities, but the problem with claims, according to Dornblaser, is that you have to really believe in the company.

“It’s not like an energy drink where you feel the effects immediately. You have to trust in long-term effects and that the product is going to do what it says it’s going to do,” she said. 

Snackers are partaking during every possible occasion one could imagine. But, Dornblaser had trouble finding products that promote themselves for specific times of day or occasions, even in this saturated snacking product market.

“To me I see so much opportunity in time of day and when it’s suitable for a product to be consumed,” Dornblaser said.  “Snacks used to be about restriction, but now it’s about well-being. Supplement users are turning to food and beverage snacking, so keep a strong focus on flavor, but sneak health in there too.”


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