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CHICAGO — Just like 50 is the new 40, salty snacks are the new comfort food.
Three in five consumers (62 percent) are eating salty snacks as a stress reliever, compared to 16 percent of American snackers who attributed stress as a reason for snacking one year ago, according to new research from Mintel.
In addition, 30 percent of consumers eat salty snacks when they are bored, with half agreeing that salty snacking is a good way to relieve boredom. In 2015, the firm's research showed that a quarter of consumers (25 percent) snacked because they were bored.
The portability of salty snacks allows consumers to alleviate their stress on the go, as Mintel pointed out. One-third of salty snackers are eating them away from home and 26 percent are eating them at work.
Parents are among the most likely salty snack consumers. Specifically, 41 percent choose the snack offering while on the go, 36 percent while at work and 34 percent throughout the day. Parents are also more likely than non-parents to agree that snacking is a stress reliever. Roughly one-third of parents are indulging in the same salty snacks as their children.
Moreover, parents are significantly more likely to agree that it's healthier to snack throughout the day than eat regular meals, 58 percent compared to 21 percent of non-parents.
"Consumption of salty snacks is largely driven by emotion, including stress and boredom. Consumers are looking for ways to manage their wellbeing, and the impact of food on emotional and mental health is becoming more important. Our research reveals this is especially true among parents, with the majority agreeing that salty snacks relieve stress," said Amanda Topper, senior food analyst at Mintel.
"Not only do parents' hectic lifestyles force them to snack while on the go, but the majority who buy salty snacks agree that snacking throughout the day is a healthy alternative to regular meals. Brands that highlight health and wellness benefits can appeal to parents that are often buying snacks that can be consumed by themselves and their children," she added.
KEY PURCHASE FACTORS
With 94 percent of Americans overall purchasing salty snacks, and 13 percent replacing meals with them, Mintel research found that 74 percent of consumers are interested in healthier salty-snacking options. Along these lines, another three in five agree that salty snacks have too many artificial ingredients, while four in five believe it's important to be able to recognize the ingredients in salty snacks.
In addition, 58 percent of salty snack purchasers agree that it is important to buy salty snacks that contain only a few ingredients.
Healthier options aside, taste trumps all when choosing salty snacks. Notably, three in five consumers agree taste is more important than how healthy a salty snack is. In fact, a new flavor is the most influential purchasing factor for American salty snackers (cited by 38 percent), followed by spicy flavor (30 percent) and limited-edition/seasonal flavor (22 percent).
Taste is also a key purchase factor among consumers who view snacking as a guilty pleasure (69 percent) and indulge in salty snacking as a way to reward themselves (63 percent), Mintel noted.
However, it is not always an either-or scenario for U.S. consumers. Four in five consumers agree salty snacks can be both healthy and tasty.
"Striking a balance between good-tasting and good for you is key for salty snack brands. While consumers are concerned about ingredients and express interest in seeing healthier options on shelves, they still want to indulge, and flavor is a highly motivating factor. Brands that focus on products with bold, new flavors that incorporate simple ingredients will offer the best of both worlds to consumers," Topper said.
According to Mintel, meat snacks are driving the salty snacks category, comprising 30 percent of retail sales. From 2010 to 2015, sales of meat snacks grew faster than any other segment (55 percent), benefiting from consumers who are looking for fewer ingredients and healthy options.
Mintel research also indicates consumers are more likely to look for no artificial ingredients (22 percent), organic (17 percent) and high protein (33 percent) claims on meat snacks than any other salty snack.
Overall, the salty snacks category grew 29 percent from 2010 to 2015, reaching $10.2 billion in sales, with that figure projected to climb an additional 22 percent to $12.4 billion by 2020.
"Recent innovations in flavor and format have helped to spur sales of meat snacks, which are largely perceived as a natural snack food with clean ingredients. Future growth of the burgeoning meat snacks segment, and the salty snacks category overall, will hinge on brands continuing to identify and adapt to consumers' better-for-you interests and remain transparent in the ingredients they are adding and removing from snacks," said Topper.