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    Trendsights: Snack Food Is in Demand as Part of Meals

    NPD shares research on shift in eating occasions.

    By Bonnie Riggs, The NPD Group

    Health consciousness, more solo households and convenience are among the reasons more U.S. consumers, particularly young adults, are eating snack foods as part of their main meals. Although most snack foods are eaten between meals, snack foods eaten at main meals now represent 24 percent of all snack food eatings, which is up from 21 percent five years ago, according to NPD’s continual tracking of U.S. consumer snacking attitudes and behaviors.

    The trend toward eating snack foods at main meals is being driven by Gen Zs and millennials. Older Gen Zs and millennials are more comfortable eating alone than are previous generations, and snack foods offer a low-cost, smaller-portioned alternative that fits that lifestyle. 

    They are also shifting toward fresh foods and foods with a healthy halo, which is why fresh fruit and refrigerated yogurt are among the top snack foods included in main meals.

    As Gen Zs and millennials age and move through life stages, their interest in consuming snack food at main meals is expected to continue. Annual eatings per capita of snack food at main meals is forecasted to grow by 12 percent by 2024, according to NPD’s Generation Study: The Evolution of Eating.

    Snack Foodservice Visits Are 12 Billion Strong

    There are 12 billion snack visits made to foodservice outlets, including convenience stores. When snacking replaces an away-from-home meal, the meal is most often lunch. Forty-eight percent of foodservice snack visits occur during the lunch timeframe. Morning snacks represent 23 percent of foodservice snack visits, and evening snacks 30 percent.

    Consumers’ snack choices are mixed between main meal and traditional snack items. The fastest-growing snack item throughout the day is breakfast sandwiches. With the introduction of McDonald’s all-day breakfast, the popularity of breakfast sandwiches has increased by double-digit rates across all meal occasions.

    There Are Many Reasons to Market Snacks

    Changing lifestyles and time pressures are often cited as the catalyst for this shift in consumer behavior. However, consumers snack for many different reasons: lack of time or money, hunger, diet, boredom, stress and energy, to name a few. The bottom line is that consumers today expect snacks to work for them; the snack is no longer just a reward. 

    When choosing to focus on offering your customers more snack-related items, keep in mind that while there are currently many snack items for purchase, consumers are always looking for new alternatives. For foods, they want more variety, something different in terms of taste, and snacks that can satisfy a craving. For beverages, they want them to be tasty, refreshing and thirst-quenching.

    Snack foods also need to offer your customers flexibility on price, portion size and portability; and allow them to compose an eating occasion that fits their specific needs at the time — whether they look at it as a snack, meal replacement or part of a main meal occasion. 

    Trendsights is an exclusive bimonthly feature that appears in Convenience Store News.

    Click on the image above to see more of NPD's research.

    By Bonnie Riggs, The NPD Group
    • About Bonnie Riggs Bonnie Riggs is the restaurant industry analyst for The NPD Group's foodservice division. She has more than 25 years of restaurant industry market research experience.

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