Snack foods are “all over the place” at Canyon Market in San Francisco. “They’re at the register, in the aisles, on endcaps if they’re on deal, and prepacked bulk [that] we do ourselves, as well as in bulk bins,” says owner Richard Tarlov, who adds that “snacking is huge.”
Forty-eight percent of all eating occasions are now snacks, according to the 2018 Eating Occasions Compass from The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.
Bashas’ in Chandler, Ariz., is seeing double-digit growth in snacks “with all the new item additions to the snack category,” says Dave Vehon, category manger. “As the traditional three square meals goes away, snacking throughout the day is the new norm.”
Vehon notes that snacking “has become a meal replacement for millennials and those with hectic schedules. Any snack that appears healthy resonates more today than traditional snacks. You see the candy companies adding more fruit and nuts to their traditional items to compete.”
What best describes your snacking habits?
* Respondents could select more than one answer
According to Shelley Balanko, SVP of business development for The Hartman Group, people snack for three reasons: for nourishment and to abate hunger; for pleasure and comfort; and for optimization, before a meeting or after a workout, for example.
Because of this, snacks for the most part fall into two groups: those that provide health benefits and those that are pure indulgence. However, there is crossover between the two. “Permissable indulgent snacks are seemingly on the rise,” Balanko says, pointing to examples of an upscale botanical soda or a lemon ricotta cup.
Yet there are times, Balanko adds, “when it doesn’t matter, and you just want the Cheeto and the Oreo because that will fit your emotional need.” But this is being displaced by better-for-you snacks, such as dark chocolate, which is indulgent, comforting, yet has some health benefits, she says.
Healthy snacking is certainly on the rise. Thirty percent of customers in 2018 reported usually only snacking on healthy foods, up almost 5 percentage points from 10 years earlier, according to the 2019 Eating Trends: Mealtimes and Snacking report from Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts. However, 45% conversely admitted to treating themselves to foods that aren’t good for them, up from 44% in 2008.
Rhythm Superfoods is a healthy snack company that puts vegetables and fruits front and center, which fits sales trend data. According to New York-based Nielsen, sales of salty vegetable-based snacks were up 6.2% for the year ending Feb. 22, 2020.
Austin, Texas-based Rhythm offers dried kale, cauliflower, beets, carrots, watermelon, mango and pineapple in different flavors and formats. The products’ millennial following is strong and growing fast, says CEO Scott Jensen. These consumers “are less hardcore tree-hugging, granola-eating; they eat a lot more produce than other demographics, and they snack more. Put those two together and you have the fastest-growing demographic for us.”
Bob DiNunzio, director of business development for Daymon Worldwide, a private label-focused company in Stamford, Conn., thinks there’s a place for all snacking occasions. “It’s three meals a day with probably three snacking occasions in between,” he says, especially the younger a consumer is.
According to Trending Flavors and Ingredients in Snacks, a February 2020 report from Chicago-based Mintel, flavor is the leading driver of snack choice, according to 67% of consumers. Nearly half (49%) of snackers like to experiment with new flavors in snacks, especially because snacks are mostly low in cost.
Consumers are ready for more flavor and want authentic and local flavors, says DiNunzio. This includes spice and bold tastes but also unusual flavor profiles such as dill pickle. “We want excitement, and we want function,” he says. “If you snack regularly, you probably don’t want the same thing every day.”
Last summer, Wonderful Pistachios launched its No Shells Chili Roasted and Honey Roasted flavors. “We’ve been seeing consumers wanting new and exciting flavors to snack on,” says Adam Cooper, SVP of marketing for Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co. “Consumers are looking for foods that offer unique and bold flavors.”
At Canyon Market, Tarlov says spicy is big, as well as Indian and Asian spice profiles. It’s the same at Bashas’, where Vehon says “spicy and hot have become very popular in recent years, especially with nut varieties and salty snacks.”
In 2014, Mike Dobson launched Pop Art Snacks, flavored popcorn with a short ingredient list. “It’s fairly healthy, but it’s also indulgent,” he says. “And with big, bold flavor, it’s satiating too.”
Which snack flavors do you currently eat?
* Respondents could select more than one answer
He launched the Salt Lake City-based company because he saw a growing desire for flavor from consumers. “There are enough brands out there doing cheese, salt, kettle,” he says. “Consumers are looking for more innovative flavors, and that’s where we want to focus.” Thus, Pop Art Snacks was born, featuring popcorn with flavors such as dill pickle vegan ranch, seaweed sesame and rosemary truffle.
Keep It Clean
Whatever the flavor, it’s important that ingredient lists on healthy snack products be short. “Now more than ever people are reading labels, and young people especially are more aware of what they put in their body,” Dobson says.
Canyon Market’s customers, Tarlov says, are looking for clean labels, organic ingredients and products that are non-GMO. Bashas’ customers are looking for clean labels, too, says Vehon. “Packaging that gives a ‘natural’ perception is winning,” he points out. His customers are seeking snacks that include protein, as well as those that “are more trail mix-like with unique nuts and fruits.”
DiNunzio says, “The big thing people are looking for is fresh ingredients, minimally processed, ingredient panels that don’t have a full paragraph, and words they can understand.” Other claims that are resonating, he says, are high protein, high fiber, low sugar, low calories and organic. And even if consumers are looking for a snack to indulge in, they still look for these words to some degree, “because they’re used to it,” he says.
And, in general, it’s the small companies that are being most innovative, says Balanko of The Hartman Group. “They’re closer to the consumer and have been defining quality in the absence of legacy branding,” she says. “While a legacy brand night have the same ingredients, it’s not done a good job of telling its story, whereas that’s where niche companies shine.”