Sweets & Snacks Expo

Unwrapping consumers' candy and snack preferences across generations

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/10'000 Hours
Source: Getty/10'000 Hours

Related tags Candy Snacks Sweets & Snacks Expo Chocolate Acosta

Despite inflationary pressures, consumers at all life stages continue to treat themselves both in-store and online with candy and snacks, Acosta Group's Kathy Risch shares in this first story in the two part series about consumers' candy and snack behaviors.

In her presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago on May 23, Kathy Risch, senior vice president of shopper insights and thought leadership at Acosta Group, provided fresh insights into the changing preferences of candy and snack consumers in different life stages, shedding light on the impact of new shopping behaviors on sales and product innovation.

The second story, "How retailers can enhance impulse purchases in-store and online​", features an exclusive interview with Risch on how retailers can enhance impulse purchases both in the self-checkout and on the digital shelves.

Recessionary behaviors will continue as shoppers are buying less

Consumers are buying less but nearly four in 10 still are buying on impulse with 47% buying on sale, Risch explained. Further, one in two consumers are shopping for the best price and for items on sale. For e-grocery shoppers, value continues to drive purchase habits​ across income groups as reported previously by FoodNavigator-USA.

While two in five are buying less candy and snacks, Risch added, 50% are still willing to spend money on desserts, candy, snacks and ice cream and cutting back on other items. Given the pervasive nostalgic trend in food and beverage and the notion of consumers using sweets and snacks to boost their mood, chocolate, ice cream and potato chips are proving to serve as inflation-proof snacks.

Nostalgia is another way that brands are bucking that decline and growing in units, even traditional candy like marshmallows, candy corn, lollipops are growing,​” Risch explained during her presentation.

A closer look at popcorn: a go-to inflation-proof snack

The popcorn market, which is expected to reach $18 billion globally by 2031​ driven by consumer demands for convenience, is a “go-to inflation-proof snack,​” Risch explained. Brands are venturing into the popcorn market by diversifying it with an array of global flavors, while also using it to expand their product portfolio. This includes transforming existing products into popcorn varieties, incorporating unique flavors and textures.

The Cultured Kernel’s Mash Up​ popcorn line features a broad line of Caribbean and Jamaican-forward flavors inspired by owner M. Lorraine’s heritage. Flavors include Cinnamon Butter Rum, Jerk & White Cheddar, Jamaican Jerk and Caribbean Caramel. The brand’s mash up flavors feature Caribbean Caramel & Jerk, Caribbean Caramel Coconut & Nuts, Jamaican Jerk Vegan and Caribbean Caramel & White Cheddar – showcasing how the brand expanded its portfolio to include a wider flavor profile from its original lineup.



Hershey’s Skinny Pop is driving the brand’s salty snacks segment as the company announced its acquisition​ of two facilities from Weaver Popcorn Manufacturing earlier this year. Its native brand, Reese’s, expands to popcorn with REESE’S Chocolate Drizzled Peanut Butter Popcorn​, blending the salty and sweet categories together.

Little Lad’s​ popcorn features familiar herbal and buttery flavors like Herbal Corn with dill and other spices, Garlic Buttah, Buttah and Sea Salt and Olive Oil.

Consumers at different life stages are looking for different snacking attributes

While Millennials are “big snackers​,” Risch explained, they tend to lean towards healthy options with clean and natural ingredients and high protein. About 69% of Millennials purchase frozen snacks, 67% purchase granola/cereal bars, 54% buy protein/nutritional bars, 53% purchase dried meat/jerky and 63% buy fruit chews—underscoring Millennials’ preference towards convenience and health.

Boomers, Risch explained, also prefer healthy snacks but with a focus on low sugar, low fat, low calories and low carbs.

In general, consumers seeking natural and organic snacks are purchasing fresh fruit, yogurt, nuts, dried nuts and granola/cereal bar; additionally, most consumers, especially Millennials are willing to pay more for natural and organic snacks.

Households with children tend to buy “virtually all types of candy and snacks at a higher rate,”​ including cheese slices and granola bars, chocolate coated candy, fruit chews, lollipops and chocolate candy bars, Risch added. Further, consumers shopping for their families tend to make more trips to the store where 60% of shoppers purchase yogurt, 55% purchase salty snacks, 51% purchase baked goods and 50% purchase granola.

Taste is still the #1 driver, followed by high quality ingredients and value

Taste continues to drive healthy snacking. Dark chocolate, for example, intersects health and taste with 60% of shoppers purchasing due to both attributes.

Despite generational and lifestyle differences, taste is ranked as the most important quality (seven out of 10 snack consumers) followed by value and sales promotions, product availability and family preference. Similarly, eight out of 10 candy consumers rate taste as the most important, followed by high quality ingredients, value and brand loyalty.

Healthy attributes in candy are less important to consumers, where only 13% are looking for lower sugar.

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