Consumers Move Toward Smaller Meals & Snacking

They partake in three to four small meals steadily throughout the day from late morning to late afternoon.

CHICAGO — The day of three square meals a day are gone and it's time for brands to adapt to consumers' new normal.

According to the 2022 State of Snacking report from NielsenIQ, which examines how snacking and consumption trends have evolved, meals and consumption moments are no longer confined to specific time windows during the day.

Specifically, the market research firm found that:

  • Fifty-seven percent of consumers have changed their eating habits or meals at least moderately in the past two years.  
  • Forty-two percent of respondents claim that their eating habits have become healthier vs. 12 months ago. 
  • Eighty-two percent say they ate more at home than away from home in the last six months. 

Examining Consumption Moments, which provide a 360-degree view of consumption, NielsenIQ defines what "snack as the new black" looks like for consumers. They are:

  • Smaller meals are healthier: Thirty-nine percent of consumers say the products they consume during small meals are healthy for them.
  • Full meals are for sharing: Full meal is the largest sharing occasion at 39 percent.
  • Chips, pretzels and popcorn are the most shared snacks: These snacks represent 30 percent occasions of snacking.
  • Sweet snacks are indulgent: Twenty-four percent of consumers have a sweet snack to indulge.

Other highlights of the State of Snacking report include:

Resurgence of the Midday Pick-Me-Up

Midnight snacking is a thing of the past as the midday pick-me-up resurges. Respondents say they consume three to four small meals steadily throughout the day from late morning to late afternoon. Nearly half of all full meals are eaten between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The biggest occasion across categories and the highest for snacking is to recharge, according to consumers. Days of the week matter, too. More consumers say they eat alone on Monday and with their partner on Sunday.

Snacking in Style

Eighty-two percent of snacking occasions are consumed at home, with chips, pretzels and popcorn ranking as the No. 1 shared snack. Consumers' offices are the second most popular place for snacking.

Sharing Occasions vs. Eating Alone

The company consumers keep impacts how and what they eat. Full meals are eaten more with others and small meals are consumed alone, NielsenIQ found.

Full meals are less frequent, saved for time with others, according to 39 percent of consumers. These occasions are consumed when they are happier and have more energy. Alternatively, 49 percent of small meals are consumed alone and when consumers say their mood and energy is lower than when they consume full meals.

Small meals and snacking are also perceived healthier by consumers. Consumers believe that 68 percent of the products they ingest are healthy. The snacks most often eaten alone include fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to modern-day snacking, NielsenIQ has three key pieces of advice for retailers and brands:

  1. Consider focusing on "better for you" messaging.
  2. Communicate around midday moments, both at home and in-office settings.
  3. Encourage consumers to change their habits by communicating the benefits around snacking with others.

Chicago-based NielsenIQ is a global information services company providing consumer packaged goods and retail companies with the data, connected insights and predictive analytics to power their growth.

NielsenIQ, an Advent International portfolio company, has operations in 90-plus markets, covering more than 90 percent of the world's population.

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