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BOSTON -- What college students crave and why they crave it has become big business for marketers. The late-night binging on pizza and other comfort foods of yesteryear has been replaced by a much more sophisticated process, according to a survey conducted by Boston marketing agency Fluent.
The study found that 75 percent of college students use snack foods to replace meals at least once per week, while afternoon snacking trumps late-night and evening snacking by a ratio of three to 1.
In addition, the Fluent survey revealed that winter is primetime munching season. One-third of the respondents aged 18 to 25 pointed to the coldest season of the year as their most likely snacking time. As for the reason, the study theorized that more intense academics and an ability to hide weight gain under heavier clothing could be the top reasons why students snack most during the winter.
However, on a contradictory note, Fluent also found that healthy options were the first choice among snacking items selected by the respondents.
"Many of the results of our snacking survey contradict what most people would imagine to be true about college kids and snacking. The peak of college snacking actually occurs during the day as opposed to late night, and students are making relatively healthy choices. What’s more, price matters a lot and students use debit cards even for these very small purchases," said Michael Carey, executive vice president of Fluent.
Other key findings of the survey include:
- While convenience and price are clearly important in driving snack choices, the single most important factors are satisfying a craving (25 percent of responses) followed by nutritional information (20 percent).
- The top go-to snack food of choice is a granola/energy bar (25 percent), followed by chips (22 percent), fruit (14 percent) and baked goods (12 percent).
- In terms of beverages, water is tops (62 percent), while coffee and tea are the primary caffeinated beverages (13 percent), chosen far more often than soft drinks (7 percent). Juice (5 percent) and milk (4 percent) did better overall than sports drinks (3 percent) and energy drinks (2 percent).
- Most students (44 percent) rely on debit cards to pay for snacks, followed by their ID card and cash (21 percent each).
- More than 80 percent report spending less than $5 per day, and 48 percent spend less than $3 a day.
- While students choose familiar tastes and brands most often (43 percent) to meet cravings, the other top influences on their purchases are free samples (35 percent) and coupons (10 percent). Peer recommendations came in fourth.