‘All-Day-Long’ Snacking Gathers Steam

Marketers urged to position brands across eating occasions

As fewer consumers opt for three square meals a day in favor of on-the-go grazing, marketers can take advantage by presenting their product lines as holistic alternatives across multiple day-parts and eating occasions.

For instance, what is yogurt anymore? How about a quadruple threat of indulgent treat, hunger solution, lunch substitute and mid-morning snack. Meantime, vegetable-juice varieties such as V8 are more than a beverage, but also a snack if marketers adopt the proper marketing mindset.

It behooves marketers to accelerate this mentality because the propensity for “mini meals,” coupled with on-the-go snacking, has shot up 5% since 2009, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive/general manager, client insights, for Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group. Wyatt made her remarks during an April webinar on snack food trends.

“There is a growing need by consumers to stay satiated throughout the day with mini meals, as 24% [of consumers say they] now snack instead of consume meals. This marks a radical change in eating habits,” said Lyons Wyatt.

During the hour-long session, co-sponsored by Arlington, Va.-based Snack Food Association, Wyatt referenced a “share of stomach” survey and the role snacking now assumes. As it relates to U.S. consumer tendencies, she said, “the short answer is ‘all day long.’ ”

Leading the top 10 snack categories were yogurt (morphing more into a meal), crackers, granola bars (led by South Beach and Clif Bar) and salty snacks. What these leading categories have in common was “strong innovation,” she said. Yogurt, for instance, produced 7.4% dollar-sales growth in 2012—well above the snack industry growth average of 4%. Lyons Wyatt singled out Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt as a premium brand that’s leading the charge.

Who is snacking and when is just as crucial for marketers to understand as what they are snacking on. Lyons Wyatt said millennials (those born in the early 1980s) are more likely to start snacking early in the day, while those 55 years old and older snack less in the morning hours, but pick up the pace throughout the day. This tendency is driven by the fact that boomers are living longer and have more on-the-go and extracurricular activities than in years past.

Price Balancing Act

These snacking trends bode well for marketers, said Lyons Wyatt, but pricing strategies must be carefully mapped out and executed. “Consumers want their favorite snack brands at reasonable and regular prices, and are not interested in hunting for the best prices,” she said. “Marketers need to price right each day and establish a value proposition. Two out of three consumers actively look for the best snack value as they make buying decisions.”

Because 38% of consumers said snack decisions are influenced by price, more appear willing to buy larger sizes of all types of snack products—premium brands included—to achieve long-term savings. In particular, Lyons Wyatt shared, millennials are prone to “pay more to get more.”

Half of consumers turn to both dollar stores and private-label brands when budgets are tight. In fact, Lyons Wyatt pointed to a phenomenon known as the “dollar impact,” where regular-size gum is viewed as a poor value if costing more than a dollar, and other products are in the same bucket.

(One caveat about private-label buying trends, Lyons Wyatt pointed out, is that “the upward march of private label has largely passed as more name brand rebound across channels.”)

Despite tighter budgets, consumers are still willing to splurge occasionally as they strike a balance between wellness and indulgent eating. “More consumers seek that balance. Many want to eat healthier, but they also want a moment to eat what tastes good without worrying about the healthy options. They seek the ‘bells and whistles’ in snack foods.”

In general, Lyons Wyatt encouraged snack marketers to “expand their horizons and think outside the snack aisles, especially when considering the competitive shifts” occurring within snack marketing, she concluded.

One inverse example in the QSR space is Taco Bell’s Home Party 12 pack—a Party Pack of crunchy beef tacos for $7. “Taco Bell decided to play in the in-home eating ritual, such as parties,” she said.  How can packaged-good manufacturers similarly break into new meal and snack occasions?