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CHICAGO — Although today’s consumers are growing more health-conscious with their food choices, they still have room in their lives for little indulgences, according to new research from Mintel.
Approximately 50 percent of Americans surveyed say that the top reason they snack is to treat themselves, and more than one-quarter (28 percent) agree that taste is more important than health when choosing a snack.
Snacking for self-care also continues to be a top motivator, as nearly two in five (37 percent) of consumers say they snack to give themselves a break during the day, and 24 percent snack to relieve stress. One in six (17 percent) of Americans will snack as a way to control their weight, too, up from the 10 percent who said they snack to help themselves lose weight in 2015.
Despite the propensity to indulge, health plays a key role in the types of snacks consumers eat, according to Mintel. One-third (32 percent) of consumers say the majority of snacks they eat are healthy and more than one-quarter (28 percent) say they are snacking on healthier foods so far this year than they did in 2016. In fact, snacks with health-related claims are among the fastest growing snack launches, with low-, no- and reduced-allergen claims claiming 46 percent of total new snack product launches in the U.S. in 2017, an increase of 30 percent over 2013, according to Mintel Global New Products Database.
While the percentage of Americans who say they snack has remained steady in recent years, snack frequency is on the rise, as those who say they snack two- to three times per day has increased from 50 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2017. Consumers who reported snacking just once a day decreased from 29 percent to 24 percent during the same time period.
Mintel research also found these contributing factors to the uptick in snacking:
Younger consumers are leading the snacking revolution as millennials (aged 23-40 years old) are the most likely to snack four or more times per day (25 percent), compared to just 10 percent of Generation X consumers (aged 41-52 years old) and 9 percent of Baby Boomers (aged 53-71 years old).
"The importance of snacking in America is undeniable and it is creating more and more opportunity for companies and brands as snacking frequency increases, particularly among younger consumers," stated Beth Bloom, associate director of U.S. Food and Drink Reports at Mintel. "While health is a factor for consideration in food and drink decisions, the majority of snackers do so for a treat, meaning even health-focused snacks should appeal with messages about enjoyment and indulgence. In recent years, brands have focused product innovation largely on cleaner formulations, highlighting an opportunity for innovative products with health attributes that appeal to health-conscious consumers."
Time of Day
Consumers begin the day looking for snacks that are healthy (29 percent), light (23 percent) and energizing (23 percent), and sweet (30 percent), comforting (25 percent) and indulgent (22 percent) snacks are sought after in the evening.
When it comes to an afternoon pick-me-up, consumers are most likely to look for snacks that are healthy (26 percent), sweet (23 percent) and energizing (22 percent). This is also the time of day 15 percent of consumers are most likely to reach for a beverage as a snack, compared to 12 percent who say the same for the morning and 11 percent in the evening.
Difference in Opinion
Today’s consumers have a difference in opinion when it comes to what constitutes as a snack. Nearly two in five (38 percent) of consumers agree that anything can be considered a snack, and one in seven (14 percent) say they are snacking on "less traditional" snack foods, like sandwiches and cereal.
"Capitalizing on the snack craze goes beyond the traditional food categories that are commonly recognized for snacking," commented Bloom. "One snack type does not necessarily fit all, highlighting an opportunity for brands to grow adoption in the snack market by creating products that align with the differing snack preferences throughout the day, as well as by positioning products as a good choice for snacking."
When it comes to salty indulgences in particular, Mintel research reveals that the types of salty snacks — including meat snacks, pretzels, corn snacks, pork rinds, popcorn and cheese-flavored snacks — consumers eat depends on the occasion.
While consumers are most likely to enjoy popcorn while watching TV or a movie at home (62 percent), the various types of popcorn available, such as caramel corn or microwavable, make it versatile as a snack for when consumers want to treat themselves (37 percent) or want something healthy (19 percent).
Meat snacks, on the other hand, are unique due to their functionality, as they are most likely to be selected to satisfy hunger (43 percent), provide energy (26 percent), to eat on-the-go (35 percent) or to have something healthy (21 percent).
Overall, sales of salty snacks have grown 30 percent since 2011, reaching an estimated $11.2 billion in 2016, with growth primarily driven by innovation in the meat snacks and popcorn categories. Sales of meat snacks reached an estimated $3.3 billion in 2016, up 51 percent from 2011, while sales of popcorn increased by 39 percent to reach $2.4 billion.
"Despite competition from other snack foods, the salty snack market continues to grow at a steady rate. The functional benefits of meat snacks and the convenience and health halo of ready-to-eat popcorn are driving strong growth in each category; however, this success is also due to increased flavor and format innovation," said Caleb Bryant, senior foodservice analyst, Mintel. "Brands are demonstrating that popcorn can be a platform for any type of flavor, with sweet flavors gaining popularity, while meat snacks are going premium and artisan."