Editor's Letter: Sticky, Stubborn Trends

Are you suffering from snack-story exhaustion? Fatigue due to too many news articles, research reports, stats and facts around the growth in snacking? Me too—to the point that I began to wonder if consumers were really propelling the growth of snacking, or if CPG firms, industry experts and the media were behind the unwavering momentum.

Turns out, consumers are really, truly continuing to increase snacking. So sorry in advance: More snack stories and stats coming your way.

I recently talked with Susan Viamari, editor of thought leadership marketing at IRI, to find out what consumer trends continue to resonate as the dust settles on 2014. She said that not only are our three square meals  officially resting in peace, but snacking itself is turning into one continuous meal occasion.

Take the example of the recently released belVita Bites Breakfast Biscuits (see p. 12). Mondelez took what was already a very portable (not to mention incredibly successful) snack and turned those six-bite biscuits into single, poppable bites. This miniaturization has already permeated the confection category with all its minis and bites; is the snack segment next?

Snacking isn’t the only trend we have to live with for another year. According to Viamari, protein just keeps  getting bigger: “Everybody is recasting products with more protein. Look at the new and old [formulations]: It’s the same amount of protein; they’re just marketing it front and center.”

In the Venn diagram of CPG trends, protein and snacking products overlap to meet another huge consumer need: convenience. We’re eating on the run, and we require sustenance and energy to make it through the busy day.

This hits home when I think about pouches. Snack time would be far more difficult if I couldn’t crack the cap off a portable pouch of applesauce for my 2-year-old. She’s already picking up the habit of eating on the go, playing far too hard to take a break and properly sit down with a bib and highchair for a snack. Multitasking myself, I’m as grateful for the convenience as she is—and you better believe I know every Holiday station in the area that carries them.

As you look ahead to the seasons and sets that await you in 2015, keep your eye on the small brands. Viamari tells me that each year, the crop of IRI New Product Pacesetters includes more and more budding companies. Think of Chobani or Neuro. Their ability to elbow their way in and stand next to industry titans has a lot to do with the power of social media. But there’s something more at play.

“We live in a world where consumers want a more individualized level of service,” says Viamari. “These little companies are showing that serving niche markets can be very valuable.”

Think about how such niche products could resonate with some of your customer groups. But also, think about  this: Can you serve a niche market? Are you the small retailer on the block providing a very individualized level of service to your customers among retail behemoths? It might just be a fresh and fruitful way to approach the year.