"Snacking is so ingrained in America's eating habits that it has become a way of life rather than a trend", notes the new report entitled Profiting from Changing Snacking and Beverage Occasions.
According to Datamonitor, in a year, the typical US consumer consumes 231 morning snacks, 283 afternoon snacks and 261 evening snacks. Children aged 6-13 consumed on average 840 snacks per year in 2005, which corresponds to over 2 snacks per day. Snacking frequencies peak for 14-24 year olds, who consumed 878 snacks in 2005.
The new report confirms a market shift - also identified in other recent studies - towards a search for healthy snacks.
Datamonitor found that 61 percent of US consumers sought food and drinks which are both convenient and healthy more often in the period July 2005 though to July 2006. In addition, 68 percent reported taking more steps to eat more nutritiously over this time period.
"All food products are being examined with more scrutiny by today's consumers; products must deliver superior sensory appeal, together with health benefits", said Daniel Bone, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report.
Part of the reason for this interest in healthier products is that people are increasingly substituting traditional meals with snacking as a result of the well-documented fast paced lifestyle of modern day consumers.
However, the new report points out that 38 percent of US consumers made conscious attempts to improve their work-life balance over the past year, reflecting the fact that people are seeking to adjust their lifestyles.
Although Americans snack throughout the day, it is in the afternoon and evening when cravings tend to be higher, with 23 percent reporting they never snack in the morning, compared to 10 percent and 16 percent who claim to never snack in the afternoon and evening respectively.
"Afternoon snacking is increasingly influenced by the fact that consumers are eating lighter 'grab-and-go' lunches. This creates a strong need for an afternoon 'pick-me-up,'" said Bone.
And the fact that parents have busy schedules means that children also resort to afternoon "hold-me-over" snacks to compensate for later evening meal times.
Younger consumers are also more likely to consume impulse snacks such as confectionery and savory snacks, with children and young adults up to the age of 24 accounting for around 38 percent of the $27.1bn confectionery market in 2005.
The combined US spend for savory snacks and confectionery - two core snack markets - was valued at $45.6bn in 2005. Between 2000 and 2005, the combined market grew by 15 percent, but growth for the next 5 years is forecast at just over 4 percent.
"The fact that consumers no longer define 'snack' with such strong reference to chocolate, sweets and crisps is one factor shaping the future of the snacking industry in both the US and Europe", said Bone.
"Traditional impulse categories such as confectionery and savory snacks are under increasing threat from new product formats - especially those that consumers consider to be more nutritious", he added.