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Satisfying snack attacks with quick solutions continues to be a part of the American diet, and that?s good news for convenience stores. But the how, when and why of snacking is shifting, with the best retailers changing along with it.
?As consumers continue to adopt a snacking culture ? choosing to snack anywhere, anytime and on practically anything ? the format and function of snacks will need to evolve to meet their needs,? said Amanda Topper, a food analyst with Mintel.
While snacks with healthy claims and natural ingredients are still important, she said snacking consumers are still very much indulgers. Both healthy and indulgent snacks balance out the list of the most consumed snacks in the United States currently, according to the market research provider (see ?Indulgence vs. Health? sidebar).
The convenience channel is specifically called out by consumers as the place to go for grab-and-go snacks. Researcher The NPD Group found that c-stores capture five times their fair share when it comes to grab-and-go snacking occasions, ahead of both grocery and discount (mass retail) stores. Overall, grab-and-go snacks represent 12 percent of all snack-oriented convenience foods and consumers typically eat them between meals rather than to replace meals.
Therefore, grab-and-go snacking represents ?a sizable opportunity? for c-stores, according to Darren Seifer, NPD?s food and beverage industry analyst. He suggests that convenience retailers consider rotating the types of items they stock near the store entrance and checkout to align with grab-and-go customers? needs by time of day.
Mintel research backs up the c-store snack advantage, showing that for snacking away from home, 24 percent of consumers say they stop at convenience stores to buy snacks.
SNACK TIME, ANY TIME
In the world of snacks, timing is everything and lately, snack times are widening to any time.
Billy Greene, a buyer with Charleston, Miss.-based Sayle Oil Co., which operates a dozen convenience stores, has observed definite shifts in the purchasing times of snacks. More specifically, he said customers are buying snacks earlier and later than they used to.
?We used to see customers buying fresh deli items between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., primarily during the lunch hour, but now they?re buying prepared foods as early as 9 a.m., then throughout the day and also after 3 p.m.,? he reported.
Fresh items that are selling as snacks, both between meals and as meal replacements, include fresh fruit, pre-made salads and chicken strips, Greene observed.
In Gainesville, Ga., PetroFast Food Stores, owned by Olympic Oil Co., have also witnessed a ?tremendous growth? and shift in snacks, according to Hank Kaiser, supervisor and buyer. He, too, made note of customers buying more snacks in the early morning hours to eat as a breakfast meal replacement or to save for later.
?It used to be [that] our average customer would get a coffee and a honey bun or a Little Debbie cake in the morning ? something along those lines. But now, we?re additionally selling energy drinks and a lot of snack bars like Kellogg?s [Special K] Protein Bars, Velveeta nutritional bars and Kashi cereal bars, along with the coffee,? he said.
Kaiser recently reset all 12 PetroFast stores to have a ?significant increase in the snack area.? Depending on the store, snack space has expanded between 4 feet and 8 feet at the expense of grocery/household items, such as canned soup, salad dressing, dish detergent and air fresheners.
Just as snacking itself is now viewed more widely and openly, consumers these days view dessert more broadly than as a traditional sweet ending to the dinner meal, according to research released by Technomic Inc. in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Compared to two years ago, more consumers report eating dessert items during midmorning and midafternoon hours, as both complete snacks and after-meal treats. Moreover, 40 percent of respondents stated they eat desserts after a meal at least twice a week, up from 36 percent in 2010, according to Technomic?s 2013 Dessert Consumer Trend Report.
?Consumers aren?t holding off on dessert until after dinner. Instead, they?re reaching for easily accessible, handheld and portable treats at just about any time of day. Desserts are functioning as snacks and even meal replacement,? said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. He suggests retailers look at broader ranges of flavors and portion sizes to satisfy consumers? evolving dessert needs.
PORTIONS & PACKAGING
On the subject of portion sizes, ?resealable and single-serving packaging can help promote consumption of snacks during non-traditional occasions, as well as encourage the use of snacks as meal replacements rather than just tummy fillers,? Mintel?s Topper stated.
Kaiser of PetroFast has also found a different shrinking size factor to be beneficial to snack sales. ?The portion size of candies inside the package is also getting smaller ? Hershey?s Drops and Reese?s Minis and Kit Kat Minis ? and they are selling well in our stores now, too.?
At Sayle Oil, smaller package sizes have been created by the deli department, such as a reduced offering of three chicken strips, specifically for snacking customers. ?We?re noticing we tend to sell the larger package of chicken strips on the weekends and the smaller size during the work week ? customers are buying them for on the way to work,? Greene said.
New products appear to be the ticket to increasing sales of indulgent snacks like candy and chips. ?We sell more of the new items in candy now,? said Greene. ?For example, [for] that new Butterfinger item (Peanut Butter Cups), I had a 166-count display and I sold it in three days.?
Meanwhile, Kaiser is seeing some growth in chips, ?in particular, Frito-Lay, because they?re coming out with so many new flavors.?
PetroFast also increased its beef jerky space by 2 feet because ?they?re coming out with all kinds of crazy flavors,? he maintained. ?We put them in and they seem to be doing well.? Kaiser is likewise noticing higher retails in jerky items that he couldn?t have sold in the past. ?Now, we?re getting customers buying the $7.99 bags,? he added.
With consumers eating smaller, somewhat healthier mini-meals throughout the day, the crackers market is adjusting accordingly and is expected to attract more healthy snackers, according to a recent report by Packaged Facts. Cracker manufacturers are combining creativity with healthy ingredients and providing authentic, unique products for health-conscious consumers.
As of 2013, the U.S. cracker market was $7 billion strong. Packaged Facts estimates the market will increase by $2 billion to $9.3 billion by 2018, due in large part to the shift in consumer snacking habits and growing interest in healthier choices.
Along these lines, Sayle Oil is now selling crackers with hummus. It is a fresh pack the retailer purchases from its local grocery wholesaler.