Snack foods eaten at main meals will grow around 5% over the next five years, according to NPD data. Within this, the strongest growth will be in the better-for-you categories like bars, yogurts and fresh fruit.
Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage analyst, said the trend to snack alongside meals was underpinned by several factors.
“First, there has been a slow but steady decline in the number of side dishes prepared at consumers’ main meals. Convenient snack foods such as yogurt, fruit or chips allow consumers to round out their meals and bring more items to the table without having to exert much effort or dedicate time toward cleaning,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
There had also been a shift in attitude towards snacking, he said. “Back in the 1980s, more than 70% of people said they try to avoid snacking entirely, but now more people disagree with that statement than agree. In the minds of consumers, snack foods can now be used as part of a healthy diet.”
There was a “paradigm shift”, he said, where the lines between foods traditionally consumed at main meals versus simple snacks had blurred.
Better-for-you to benefit
As the shift to snack alongside meals took hold, better-for-you snack products would benefit, Seifer said, particularly as younger generations – millennials (ages 24-37), gen X (ages 38-48) and gen Z (ages 0-23) – had become more concerned around health.
These consumers have a positive attitude toward snacking and a desire to eat more healthfully, he said, and so “healthful convenience is important during these times”.
However, products that offered flexibility for these younger consumers would do best, he said, particularly those that still enabled some level of involvement.
“[Younger generations] want convenience, but they want ‘sensible involvement’ with their foods… Make it easy for them, but let them take it across the finish line.”
Will snacks take over meals?
Asked if manufacturers should position their product as a meal replacer, Seifer said: “It depends on the product. There is evidence that consumers are using snack foods as meal replacements as well as side dishes.”
For example, chips, bars, yogurt and fresh fruit are categories that consumers split between snack meals and main meals, he said.
However, on the whole he said meal replacement remains a small part of snack food consumption. Snack bars, for example, were predominantly eaten as snacks (53%), then as meal accompaniments (25%) and lastly as a full meal replacement (22%).
Seifer said manufacturers would be better off calling out product benefits, rather than explicitly marketing them as a meal-orientated item.
“Is it high in protein? Does it lack gluten? Does it only take a few moments to prepare? This will let the consumer choose when to consume it, while knowing the benefits regardless of the time it was consumed.”