Snacks: When Is a Food Not a Snack?

Rarely, according to IRI, Snack Food Association

There’s a chance that steak tartare and filet mignon aren’t considered snacks—but don’t bet the house on it. Snacking habits have opened the net so far and wide to include once-unlikely options that snacking has become the new wild West.

The blurring of eating occasions has expanded that gastronomic galaxy, and a larger number of food and beverage categories now appeal to consumers as snack options to rival the core categories.

While it’s true that 14% of the U.S. population still consumes three square meals a day, it’s also true that from 2010 through last year, people who ate three or more snacks per day grew from about 35% to 51%, while per-day snack consumption rose from 1.9 to 2.8, according to data from Chicago-based IRI and the Arlington, Va.-based Snack Food Association (SFA).

The insights were part of the “State of the Snack Food Industry” webinar presented by IRI and SFA earlier this year.

“We feel consumers will remain cautious as they did in 2013 until [financial] confidence is gained,” said presenter Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive and general manager, client insights, for IRI. Consumers are carrying “small pockets of confidence” around with them, she said.

Snacks hold a key to these pockets because the cost per occasion is less than that of a full meal. One of the more compelling shifts to occur over the past four years is that core snacks have now been joined by “macro snacks” such as soup, fresh eggs, smoothies, cottage cheese and tofu.

All told, 68% of consumers seek snacks that are fun to eat, and 62% of core healthy categories are growing, according to IRI and SFA data.

Chocolate is currently available in so many snack categories that people needn’t buy a core chocolate item to get their fi x. To wit: Snyder’s of Hanover chocolate-covered pretzels.

And the fact that the snack category experienced an average price increase of 3.6% in 2013 has an explanation: Prices were propped up by the costs of later-day macro snack varieties such as pizza, peanut butter and soup.

It will be incumbent on marketer/retailer partnerships, said Lyons Wyatt, to divine consumer day-part tendencies and then take advantage of them to grow snacking sales.

“The battle for breakfast was intense in 2013,” she said, pointing to Taco Bell’s entrance into the day-part. “In addition, the path to purchase … has become increasingly complex, and making precise communication inside and outside the store is essential to influence consumers at key decision points.”

Lyons Wyatt said that 85% of consumers in 2010 indicated they did not consume snacks in the morning, but this declined to 69% in 2013. Thirty-one percent said they did not snack in the evening, down from 53% in 2010.