Changing Consumption Trends Drive Snack Category Evolution

Snacking occasions have expanded significantly, prompting retailers and suppliers to focus on fulfilling need states.
Angela Hanson
Senior Editor
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woman browsing snacks

CHICAGO — Snacking remains a multiple-times-per-day habit for consumers everywhere.

“Snacking is a lifestyle in the United States. This is not something that’s going away anytime soon,” Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader at IRI, said during her “State of Snacking” presentation at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Nearly 700 exhibitors and roughly 16,000 attendees filled 4.5 acres of candy and snack innovation at the annual event, which is hosted by the National Confectioners Association (NCA) and was held May 23-26 at Chicago's McCormick Place. A wide range of products were on display from chocolate to non-chocolate, gum, mints, and sweet and savory snacks.

As of spring 2022, multipack offerings have been a notable growth driver in the category, while meat snacks stand out as a particular snack type that had "phenomenal growth across the board" in 2021, Wyatt noted. A high number of new snacking brands have also arrived and are bringing excitement to the category.

A top hazard to snack success is keeping items in stock despite supply chain challenges. As Wyatt noted, “if we don’t have products on the shelf, the consumer can’t buy them.”

Inflation or a potential recession could also harm sales, although certain snack products are less sensitive to price, such as potato chips, tortilla chips, and dried meat snacks.

Convenience stores are well positioned to continue growing snack sales based on their success in maximizing daypart sales and capitalizing on consumer preferences for snack types — 51 percent of Americans are looking for snacks that can be eaten on the go.

Wyatt pointed to three major influences on snack purchases: 74 percent of U.S. consumers are influenced by previous usage and trust of brands; 74 percent are influenced by item price; and 53 percent of consumers are influenced by product label/packaging.

At the same time, operators should consider the value of social influencers and social/digital communications. “Tik Tok has become a home for influencers,” she cited.

Sustainability, local credentials and evolved holistic health factors can also be influential — in other words, consumers are looking for more than one benefit in their snacks.

Discussing the future of snacks, PepsiCo Inc.’s Mike Gervasio, vice president of category leadership, noted that the company has shifted its approach from a category-based view to a consumer-based view. Rather than focus narrowly on traditional snacks like popcorn, pretzels and potato chips, he said retailers and suppliers should recognize that snacking occasions have expanded significantly. Depending on the format, almost anything can be a snack now, even pizza leftover from the night before.

“Consumption has changed dramatically, so we’re here to change with it,” Gervasio said.

To keep up with these evolving consumption trends, companies should consider:

  • Need states: What needs must be met during this snacking occasion?
  • Location: Where does this occasion take place?
  • Who they’re with: Is the snacker alone or with other people?
  • Purchase location: Where is the item being purchased?
  • Meal type: Would this be considered a snack, a small meal, etc.?
  • Accompaniment: What role does the product play in the meal?

By considering these factors, companies can determine how a product is likely to fulfill a particular consumer need: uplift, indulgence, satisfaction, energy or nourishment.

“Each category is DNA within the need state,” Gervasio said.

The 2023 Sweets & Snacks Expo will be held May 22-25 in Chicago.

About the Author

Angela Hanson
Angela Hanson is Senior Editor of Convenience Store News. Read More