The Graze Craze

Granular info on snacking offers retailers food for thought

Snack marketers have a lot on their plate these days: The macro- and micro-trends that underpin their product categories—and by extension dictate their go-to-market strategies—have become as abundant as an overflowing bowl of snacks.

Who is snacking, when they snack, how they snack, where they snack and with whom are fluid factors, and a bit on the compound-complex side—far more so that the majority of other CPG categories.

It’s a good time to be a marketer of confection-based sweet and savory snacks as well as traditional salty-snack varieties, and it’s also a good time to be a market researcher tracking such trends.

With so much granular information at their disposal, marketers have to decide how to proceed with game planning. This spring, Port Washington, N.Y.-based The NPD Group produced research indicating that the typical American now consumes more than 1,000 snack-oriented convenience foods throughout the year. Kids and teens are proving to be the heaviest users of convenience snacks, which include fresh fruit and sweet and savory snacks, reports NPD.

The market research and consulting firm revealed that women eat, on average, 3.1 snack-oriented convenience foods a day, compared to 2.7 snacks consumed by men, according to NPD’s snacking research. Want more differences between women and men on snacking? Laurie Demeritt, CEO of Bellevue, Wash.-based market researcher The Hartman Group, says that women arrive at retail outlets armed with a shopping list for items such as snacks, while men make a mental list of the snack foods (and other foods) they plan to buy.

NPD’s SnackTrack found that about eight of every 10 in-home snack-food eating occasions are considered to be a snack-oriented convenience food vs. other foods, regardless of time of day. During a typical year, there are more than 356 billion eating occasions of snack-oriented convenience foods, according to SnackTrack.

Broken down by age group, millennials (born in the early 1980s) are serious grazers, with many likely to start snacking early in the day, according to research from Chicago-based IRI; people 55 years and older are prone to snack less in the morning but pick up the pace as the day progresses. This tendency comes as more boomers live longer and have more on-the-go activities.

NPD’s SnackTrack also found that among the top 10 motivators for selecting a particular snack are taste of products, hunger satisfier, craving satisfier, favorite snack, and convenience and simplicity of consuming it. While taste is the leading motivator across all age groups, women are more likely to select snack foods to satisfy specific expectations (chocolate, sweet, crunchy, healthy) while kids’ favorite snacks are simply fun to eat. Fresh fruit, chocolate, potato chips, cookies and yogurt are, in order, the top five snack-oriented convenience foods consumed annually.

These snacking motivators were supplemented by more info: During a May webinar hosted by Washington, D.C.-based National Confection Association (NCA), Demeritt of The Hartman Group said 79% of the time people snack to satisfy “a base desire.” Other motivators include no prep time/ready to eat; nostalgia; and stress reduction.  During the webinar, titled “U.S. Snacking Trends: Implications and Opportunities for the Sweet and Snacks Industries,” Demeritt said consumers are snacking in what are now five distinct day-parts.

Within each day-part, consumers perceive each occasion as having a different need objective. More people are snacking pre-breakfast, viewing it as a precursor before they have their real breakfast, she said. After-dinner and late-night snack occasions are usually accompanied by gadgets: people snacking while they surf the Web on a laptop, PC or iPad tablets, she said.

In fact, one arcane aspect of after-dinner or late-night snacking occasions is that consumers are known to snack using their left hand while they activate technology gadgets with their right hand.

Within the five day-part occasions are at least two overarching trends: More people are snacking alone in the home rather than as part of social occasions, as they did in years past. The Hartman Group’s Compass database found that 70% of households have no children under 18 living in them, and there are a growing number of single households.

“Confection snacking was once done for celebratory occasions, but now we see more people snacking alone. Many don’t always want a frozen meal for one, but something savory such as a confection variety,” said Demeritt.

Also, she said, a growing number of consumers are interested in “the narrative” behind confection and other snack foods. “They want to know about the quality of the product, about where their chocolate came from—the origin of the food and the production process of it. Is there a face behind the brand? This helps increase quality perception: People want their snack food to be as ‘real’ as possible,” said Demeritt.