C-stores Can Take Bigger Bite of P.M. Snacking


JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Gone are the days when snacking was seen as a one-dimensional indulgence, consumed in the wee hours of the night. Nowadays, snacking occurs across all dayparts, but there is one daypart in particular that consumers indulge in most: p.m. snacking.

The growth of p.m. snacking (generally, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.) is part of the larger upward trend of consumer snacking, as consumers seek to replace full meals with grazing, noted Nicole Peranick, director of global consumer strategy for culinary at Daymon Worldwide, and Jordan Rost, vice president of consumer insights, Nielsen, who both served as presenters for a July 27 webcast hosted by Convenience Store News.

“Fundamentally, a new normal, or a new reality, has emerged in our eating culture as consumer palates and preferences have changed,” Peranick said. Trends changing this culture include: cultural mosaic, next generation, consumers judging value on experience as opposed to stuff, small portions, urbanization, shift to “clean” eating, pop culture, nostalgia, and more.

As a result of these shifts, consumers today are not holding themselves hostage to conventions, as evidenced by 70 percent of consumers claiming anything can be a snack, 53 percent eating later in the day, and 52 percent of millennials saying they prefer to replace a meal with a snack.

This new, carefree and flexible approach to eating has also changed consumers’ approach to dining out. They've traded in formal atmospheres, conventional meal times and mass-processed foods for casual dining that is approachable, shareable, experimental, localized and "healthified." Casual dining is setting the stage for snacking to fundamentally displace the traditional three-square-meals-a-day ritual, Peranick explained.

Today's “always on” culture is altering the landscape, too. “Our ‘always on’ culture is further supporting this fundamental shift to snacking — be that our on-the-move nature, our demand for instant gratification or our packed schedules, all while operating in a 25/7 digital world,” she said.

As for what's on the horizon, Peranick highlighted five key trends now shaping the future of snacking:

1. Healthification Meets Snackification. The move to healthier, cleaner and purposeful eating is driving innovation in the snacking space.

2. Importing the Global Pantry. Inspiration from global cuisines is inspiring flavors, formats and eating styles.

3. Rise of Next-Generation Categories. As a result of new consumer need states, next-generation snacking categories are emerging to address these.

4. Communal Snacking for the Everyday. The "casualization" of dining is migrating to retail snacking.

5. Reimaging Convenience. With convenience as a cost of entry, reimagined formats, shapes and enhanced utility have emerged in snacking.

How C-stores Can Capitalize on PM. Snacking 

During the second half of the webcast, Rost explored how convenience stores act as a hub for meeting consumer need states. By looking at who, what, where, when and why consumers are snacking, c-store retailers can see how “the idea of snacking is really purpose-driven,” he explained.

As p.m. snacking is explored, he noted it’s important to recognize how consumers’ priorities for snacking are competing, combining and ultimately driving the decisions they make when it comes to snacks. When consumers snack, they are driven by convenience (18 percent), health (25 percent) and taste/treat (27 percent). 

Broken down by daypart, the top needs for snacking are skewed by occasion, Rost detailed. For example, when it comes to breakfast, consumers are looking for health and convenience; when it comes to lunch, consumers are looking for convenience; at dinner, they’re looking for an array of needs; and when they snack in general, they’re looking for convenience and taste/treat.

Narrowing in on daypart, snacking peaks during the early afternoon, with 38 percent of consumers snacking in the afternoon. The uptick begins at 2 p.m., spikes at 3 p.m. and remains steady until 5 p.m. “People are having their snack after lunch, or as their afternoon lull is starting to set in," he said.

Bringing c-stores into focus, the 2 p.m.-5 p.m. snacking period is becoming “the fourth biggest daypart,” according to Rost.

“There’s a shift toward c-stores becoming our pantries and our refrigerators, instead of going right to what we have around us," he explained. "As we’re on the go, we’re looking for that next best thing and the next available source for snacking. For a lot of consumers, that very much can be c-stores.”

In closing, Rost laid out two ways c-store retailers can optimize their sales by leveraging the p.m. snacking trend:  

  • C-store retailers should recognize snacking is purpose-driven. This will tell them exactly who their customers are.
  • Once c-store retailers know who their customers are, they will be able to segment their snacks appropriately.

The webcast, “P.M. Snacking: The Hottest C-store Daypart,” was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, AdvancePierre, McCain Foods, Mars Chocolate North America, The Schwann Food Co. and Red Bull.

A replay is available by clicking here. 

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