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    Breaking the Snack Barrier

    C-stores and fast feeders cross the line between meals and snacks.

    As customers wander further from the traditional eating pattern of three square meals a day, fast feeders are looking to fill the gap.

    Hungry to lure in customers at all hours, Burger King is tentatively planning the launch this summer of a spicy, 4-inch-long, fried white-meat chicken snack that looks like a cross between a chicken strip and french fry, according to USA Today.

    "For me, they're like M&Ms," says Greg Brenneman, CEO of Burger King.

    BK Chicken Fries, as they're being called in test marketing, are sold in cup-holder-friendly boxes so commuters can dip and eat them in transit. The potato-less fries will fetch $1.79 for a box of six. (Other "chicken fry" products are in the market, but BK says it's first to make them with whole-muscle, breast meat strips.)

    Snacking has become so pervasive that the definition of a snack, once narrowly viewed as a salty chip in a bag, has evolved to cover almost everything else.

    Salty snacks are a $25 billion industry, but all other forms of snacks may be well on the road to topping that.

    Granola bars alone are a $700 million industry growing about 20 percent annually.

    "People used to eat three squares," says Dennis Lombardi, a food consultant. "But traditional eating patterns no longer exist."

    Result: Everyone in the food world is trying to cash in on a culture with no set mealtime, which would rather snack on the run than sit and dine.

    In 1985, 45 percent of consumers said they tried to avoid snacking. That fell to 26 percent in 2004, says Harry Balzer, food guru at NPD Group, a research firm.

    More snacks-on-the-go:

    Stirable snack. 7-Eleven began selling Stir Crazy, a $1.99 soft-serve ice-cream-like product in a cup packed with bits of mixable Oreos or cookie dough pieces. The convenience store expects to sell 20,000 a day, spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said.

    Popable ice cream. Dreyer's introduced Dreyer's Dibs -- popable ice cream balls coated in chocolate that come 60 to a carton. They're 15 calories each.

    "The whole concept is about making ice cream munchable and snackable," said Suzanne Saltzman Ginestro, marketing manager at Dreyer's.

    Healthy yogurt snacks. Yoplait rolled out Healthy Heart yogurt with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols. Stonyfield has introduced Moove Over Sugar, yogurt with 50 percent less sugar. In 1984, the typical person ate yogurt six times a year. Last year, it was 19, NPD says.

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