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Consumers in the United States and around the world continue to snack more and more every day, with less room for traditional meals. While this trend is influenced by many factors, the key demographic driving it is millennials, the generation of Americans born roughly between 1977 and 1995 who account for nearly a quarter of the total U.S. population.
Some of the key millennial values influencing their food and beverage choices include authenticity, transparency, lack of formalized boundaries/greater creativity, and convenience — not to mention the technology-driven world that guides so much of the decision-making in their lives.
Some of the main trends impacting the snacking world are largely influenced by the millennial generation.
Research shows that younger consumers are more likely than older consumers to embrace “healthier” snacks.
Nutrient Density — According to Nielsen, almost half of all consumers globally admit to using snacks to replace a main meal. As consumers are skipping more traditional meals, they are still looking for the nutrition and energy to sustain them through the day.
Snacks that can fill the nutrient void traditionally met by breakfast, lunch or dinner are seeing strong growth. This includes categories that are inherently nutrient dense (i.e., nuts), as well as categories that are able to authentically deliver nutrients with product formula changes (i.e., protein bars). Additional categories in this space that have shown very strong growth in recent years include seaweed snacks and kale chips.
Organic — According to the Organic Trade Association, organic snacking has grown by more than 15 percent per year since 2011, well ahead of the total organic market at 11 percent. Within organic snacking, salty snacks account for more than half of all organic snack dollar sales and grew 17 percent in 2014.
While organic may not be as developed in the convenience store channel, we look for this trend to stick and to continue to expand into this channel.
Categories traditionally not related to snacking are now seeing significant growth behind snack usage.
Yogurt — Historically used as a breakfast food primarily, yogurt is increasingly being eaten throughout the day as a snack. According to Datamonitor, this category has experienced the largest growth of any food category in the American diet from 2004 to 2014. Also, in the U.S., 25 percent of Americans who skip breakfast will snack on yogurt later in the day.
Vegetables — Consumers want to eat healthy, but they will not give up taste. Manufacturers have caught on to this trend and created new products to fill the opportunity.
U.S. brand Way Better Snacks launched a Sweet Potato Corn Tortilla Chip, which has been emulated by other national brands as well as retailer private brands. For example, Giant Eagle just launched a Fall Nature’s Basket Sweet Potato Pumpkin Tortilla Chip. Additionally, brands like Mamma Chia Squeeze and Plum have introduced on-the-go snack pouches targeting adults.
Beverages — A professor of nutrition at Purdue University, Richard Mattes, noted that the U.S. consumers’ daily intake of calorie-rich beverages now accounts for up to 50 percent of the calories we consume outside of meals.
A recent study by the manufacturer FONA also found that 57 percent of millennial consumers are drinking health-oriented, functional beverages including sports drinks, weight loss drinks and meal replacements, and much of this consumption is serving as a snack. This study also found that millennials are the group most likely to consume one or more functional beverages per day.
One of these “mainstream gone functional” examples is from the Minute Maid brand. Last year, Minute Maid introduced a fruit drink with added vegetables to enhance the nutrition profile. The Berry Blend variant combines purple carrot, pumpkin and beetroot, blended with pear, grape and berry juices.
Millennials are also more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and that’s having a profound effect on their snacking habits.
Global Inspiration — Food producers are adding flavors and ingredients with local flair and going deeper into regional taste profiles. Rather than adding a generic “Asian” flavor or ingredient, manufacturers are providing authentic tastes from Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian countries.
For example, Tom Yum, a traditional soup from Thailand, is now appearing as a flavor profile in salty snacks. The millennial consumer is particularly open to trying these new global flavors.
Flavor Adventure — Many flavors are moving from obscurity just a few years ago into the U.S. mainstream today. This includes such flavors as sriracha, maple, ginger and coconut.
For example, recently in 2015, 7-Eleven introduced new premium popcorn under its sub-brand 7-Select GO!Yum. The air-popped, gluten-free, no-preservative popcorn flavors include Sriracha, Bacon Ranch, Jalapeno Cheddar and Cinnamon Sugar. 7-Eleven also recently introduced GO!Smart sprouted tortilla chips in flavors including Sweet Chili, Sriracha and Sweet Potato.
The world of snacking will continue to evolve over the coming years, but all indications show it will be driven most profoundly by the millennial consumer and the key trends of wellness, “snackification” of categories and multi-sensory/experiential snacking.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.