CHICAGO — Snacking has become a regular habit in the United States, as a whopping 94 percent of Americans snack at least once a day, according to Snacking Motivations and Attitudes US 2015, a report by Mintel. Additionally, 50 percent of adults snack two to three times per day, with 70 percent agreeing that anything can be considered a snack these days.
This is a notable increase from a year ago, when Mintel's The Snacking Occasion US 2014 report showed that only 64 percent of consumers said they often snack between meals.
Other key findings include:
- Americans claim a preference for healthier snacking, with 33 percent saying they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year;
- At the same time, 62 percent of consumers most often snack to satisfy a craving; and
- U.S. consumers (63 percent) value the taste of salty snacks more than their nutrition.
Overall, 62 percent of U.S. consumers snack mainly to satisfy a craving. This is an especially strong driver for those ages 55 to 62 at 70 percent. Nearly a third of consumers snack because it is too early or late to eat a full meal. A quarter of Americans snack out of boredom, up 2 percent from 2014, and 16 percent do so because they are stressed.
Millennials ages 21 to 38 are significantly more likely to snack than older consumers, with 24 percent most likely to snack four or more times per day, and 23 percent snacking more this year than last year. Compared to other generations, millennial consumers are more likely to be emotional or functional snackers. Twenty-seven percent snack out of boredom, 17 percent snack because they are stressed and 39 percent snack for energy.
"Our research shows that millennials are more likely to snack compared to older generations as a means to fulfill emotional and functional needs, including combating boredom or stress and increasing energy and focus. Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats," stated Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel. "Millennials are also more likely than older generations to indicate snacks with added nutrition and flavor variety are important to them. As a result, they may be drawn to products with high fiber, energizing claims or protein content to stay satiated, as well as bold flavors to help add variety to their frequent snacking occasions and eliminate boredom."
Retail location and word of mouth are important influences on the snacking behavior of iGeneration/millennials (consumers age 18-38), who are most likely to try a snack that has been recommended to them (68 percent) and most likely to go out of their way to buy snacks from a specific store (43 percent). They favor organic snacks and products with added nutrition such as protein and vitamins, but affordability is more important to them, creating an opportunity for health-focused, low-cost snacks.
Health plays a role in the type of snacks consumers are eating, with 34 percent of general consumers limiting their consumption of sweet snacks, and 45 percent of those age 70 and up doing so. Thirty-three percent of U.S. consumers indicate they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year, and 30 percent of parents are serving healthier snacks to their children.
Despite these increases in healthy eating habits, 60 percent wish there were more healthy snack options, yet 51 percent agree taste is more important than health.
"With a third of consumers saying they are snacking on healthier options more often this year compared to last year, there will be an increasing need for better-for-you snacks, in smaller portions and convenient formats. This addresses consumers' desire to balance both health and indulgence," concluded Topper. "Mintel data shows that consumers, especially households with children, agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or resealable packages. This highlights a need for balance between convenience and affordability, knowing the importance many consumers, especially younger consumers, place on affordable snacks."