How do snacking habits vary according to the time of day?

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Products such as Tio Gazpacho blur the boundaries between meals and snacks
Products such as Tio Gazpacho blur the boundaries between meals and snacks

Related tags: Meal

Whether consumers opt for savory or sweet snacks is typically determined by the time of day, with savory snack consumption peaking at noon and sweet snack consumption peaking at 8pm, whereas better-for-you snack consumption is predicated more by place, according to market researcher NPD Group.

“The day starts healthy with better-for-you snacks, which are typically consumed throughout the day depending on location, savory picks up mid-day, and in the evening, there’s a desire for sweet.

“Over a third of snacks consumed after dinner are sweet, and over 40% of snacks carried from home and eaten at school, work, in the car, or at other locations are better-for-you,” ​added NPD Group, which noted that many snacks are consumed as part of a meal or instead of a meal.

"The growth of snack foods consumed at mealtimes is driven by items already in the house, so it’s more important than ever to get on the shopping list."

Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst, added: “All snack foods are not treated equally by consumers depending on the time of day... Marketers of snack food products need to communicate with consumers based on day part, while better-for-you snack marketers need to be more focused on location, as in-home versus away from home.”

snacking npd
Source: NPD Group

Continuous snacking, opportunist eaters, and mini meals…

According to Hartman Group, snacks now comprise 50% of all eating occasions, while IRI categorizes 21% of Americans as “opportunist eaters, who grab food and drink throughout the day as the opportunity arises, with little consideration as to whether they are eating a meal or a snack.”  

NPD Group snacking by type
NPD Group divides snacking consumption into sweet, savory, and better for you categories

According to NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys) dietary intake data collected by the federal government, the percentage of energy derived from snacks in the American diet increased from 12% in the late 1970s to 24% in 2009/10, as is likely even higher today.

And with the boundaries between means and snacks continuing to blur, new, more health-focused products that are more substantial than a traditional snack, but not as caloric as a main meal - such as Munk Pack oatmeal fruit squeeze packs, Tio Gazpacho chilled soup in a bottle, and Chimp Food (drinkable meals) - are starting to gain traction.  

Munk Pack

We are surrounded by bad options and they have become ubiquitous

Speaking at FoodNavigator-USA’s snacking trends forum on March, Shane Emmett, CEO of chia bar maker Health Warrior, said: “We’re eating snacks two or three times a day not two or three times a week, so we have to redefine the meaning of a snack.  [The problem is that] we are surrounded by bad options and they have become ubiquitous.”

Josh Kahn, co-founder of Fruigees, which makes fruit-based snack pouches, added: “We definitely see snacking as a fluid concept, I think the traditional view of a snack being something to tide you over between meals is still totally valid, but it’s not the only type of snacking anymore.

"Snacking is also something we do to replace meals, and we also snack as a means to an end, maybe to get in protein or calories after a workout or keep us going when we’re in that slump at 3pm or simply for pleasure.”

Krave jerky new

Purposeful snacking

Jon Sebastiani, CEO of KRAVE Jerky, said consumers were also becoming more purposeful when it came to snacking, as it is now something that might be planned, rather than spontaneous:

What we’ve seen in the last 4-5 years is this tremendous appetite for healthy snacking and folks are looking to get things like protein into their daily lives but they are also looking out for more specialty snacking opportunities, what we call purposeful snacking, and grazing as a healthy way to replace a meal.

“10 years ago jerky was largely viewed as a convenience store snack riddled with high levels of sodium, nitrates and artificial flavors, but if you strip away those ingredients and make it in an all-natural way, jerky is as healthy or healthier than a serving of Chobani Greek yogurt or a Clif bar or Pop Chips.”

Read more about the NPD Group's Snacking in America​ report.

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