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Any convenience store customer looking for a quick snack can choose from among the wide variety of candy bars, potato chips and other traditional sweet and salty snacks, but these snacking mainstays are no longer the obvious choices for many consumers. Snack options are growing, and how and when people eat them are changing.
?In the consumer?s mind, there is a little bit of blur ring between what traditionally was reserved for snack time and what?s reserved for main mealtime,? Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group, told Convenience Store News.
Items such as potato chips are more often consumed alongside main meals, especially lunch, but better-for-you snacks like refrigerated fruit, fresh yogurt and cereal bars are increasingly being eaten both at meals and between meals. As a result, forecast data shows sales of such snack types are expected to keep pace with population growth over the next five years, while savory snacks are projected to fall slightly behind that rate and sweet snack growth will likely be flat.
?Snack foods are not just for snacks anymore. Consumers are eating snack foods as part of meals, and eating meal foods as snacks,? said Chris Quam, global consumer insights manager with General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. ?It really depends on when, where and how much the consumer eats at that moment. These days, anything can be a snack.?
SNACKING ON THE RUN
For many people, the shift in snack choices is being prompted less by evolution of their personal tastes and more by the need to accommodate their schedule. Between work, family obligations and countless other occasions, consumers snack to sustain themselves during a busy day or they choose to eat portable, grab-and-go items that can be consumed anywhere in order to multitask.
A 2013 General Mills survey of 1,500 snack bar consumers highlighted the hectic nature of Americans? lives. Among the findings:
- 44 percent agreed they are ?always doing things while eating snacks.?
- 29 percent agreed they are ?always eating on the go.?
- 28 percent agreed they ?snack a lot throughout the day.?
- 24 percent agreed they ?often skip/forget to eat meals.?
?It?s clear that consumers aren?t slowing down. Therefore, competition between QSRs [quick-service restaurants] and convenience stores will continue to intensify,? said John Oros, senior manager of business development for Hillshire Brands. ?On-the-go consumers have many grab- and-go options; however, only convenience stores can provide customers with a one-stop-shop experience.?
While many snacks deemed fresh and healthy are growing in popularity, some particularly stand out. Yogurt, long seen as a healthy snack, has shot up in popularity in recent times. Suppliers are pushing its health benefits, such as the high level of protein found in Greek yogurt, and consumers are taking notice.
?It sits at the intersection of a meal and snack. It works for both occasions,? Quam said. ?It?s portable, tastes good and consumers can feel good about it. It fits the way we eat today.?
The versatility yogurt offers can be a key benefit to c-store retailers that want to maximize their appeal to customers by serving as a reliable destination for both snacks and meals.
?Refrigerated yogurt is consumed about 44 percent of the time with a main meal and another 40 percent of the time between the main meals,? NPD?s Seifer said. A retailer that offers a good selection of yogurt will effectively offer it at both eating occasions while taking up the same amount of space in the cooler.
Snack bars are another boundary-crossing item that offers convenience as well as various benefits. Protein bars tend to appeal to athletes, while cereal and nut-based bars can serve as a treat ? one that doesn?t consist solely of ?empty? calories. The growth in this segment has prompted considerable manufacturer development to meet the needs of consumers seeking organic/natural products, meal replacements, weight management and more.
THE NEXT STEP
It?s unlikely the snack categories will reverse course on these changes anytime soon, so smart suppliers and retailers alike are adjusting their tactics in response. A good first step is simply to spotlight the benefits of items already being stocked in c-stores.
?Given the blurred lines we?re seeing, it would be wise for any marketer who has an existing item that is convenient and can go between the main meal occasion and snack meal occasion to promote it as such,? said Seifer, noting the past two years have seen an increase in this practice.
Choosing the right snack products to offer from an increasingly crowded marketplace is more difficult for c-stores, especially those that operate smaller locations where every new product added must displace one already on the shelf.
For the best results, retailers should step back and examine which physical areas of the store can be used more effectively, especially at different times of day.
?The bakery case is an underutilized space that can continue to drive sales in the afternoon and evening,? Oros said. ?Operators have the opportunity to fill the case with new, unexpected bakery items, beyond doughnuts and basic packaged goods, to drive cross-category and impulse purchases.?
At the same time, he acknowledged, operational efficiencies inside the store can?t be sacrificed just to increase diversity of offerings. Offering an extra new flavor or two, especially seasonal or regional flavors, can help satisfy the desire for variety without going overboard.
As snacking continues to evolve, optimizing a store?s offerings requires keeping track of rising trends, in addition to knowing what?s currently popular. For instance, NPD research shows that demand for protein is getting stronger. ?More consumers are looking for that on the nutrition label,? Seifer said.