How Consumers Shop for Snacks Shifts Amid COVID-19


PLANO, Texas — With Memorial Day signifying the unofficial kickoff to summer, the majority of Americans (89 percent) anticipate their summers will be different compared to last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Frito-Lay's latest U.S. Snack Index report.

In its latest installment, U.S. Snack Index found snacks remain essential to summer, but with consumers increasingly buying through new channels and eating snacks differently than ever before. From minimal travel and socially distanced gatherings, to when, where and how consumers shop for snacks, consumer behavior is likely to have a lasting impact on the months ahead.

"Since the onset of the pandemic — what we eat, where we buy, and how we engage with one another has shifted dramatically — and we've had to reorient our business to address this," said Steven Williams, CEO, PepsiCo Foods North America. "Our ability to remain agile at the most critical time has enabled us to successfully meet consumer demand."

Highlights of U.S. Snack Index include:

Summer gatherings evolve, but snacks are still a welcome guest.

Recent IRI data revealed that more than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) expected to make changes to their Memorial Day plans in 2020, including 82 percent noting they'll stay at home.

As such, people are adapting how they snack to fit their changing plans. Eighty-six percent said they will probably bring snacks to a small group gathering and more than one in three (34 percent) expect to do more virtual hangouts with friends over the next few months. 

Consumers turn to snacking as they search for some level of normalcy.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said that eating their favorite snack makes them feel normal, while 83 percent said their favorite summer snacks remind them of good times and 48 percent said eating their favorite snack makes them feel happy. 

Although there are many differences this year, favorite snacks are a mainstay and are seeing higher demand. IRI retail sales data also shows salty snacks have been the No. 1 food item that's contributed to sales growth at retailers since early March when consumers were shifting purchasing priorities amid stay-at-home orders for various states.

Frito-Lay has seen the same demand in its own sales data, as in recent weeks consumers have increased purchasing snack items like Lay's (up 32 percent), Cheetos Popcorn (contributing to 65 percent of the ready-to-eat popcorn category) and Tostitos (up 42 percent).

Variety and convenience contribute to consumers' snack choices.

U.S. Snack Index revealed that many consumers are still trying new snacks, with 92 percent saying they plan to continue to eat them once the pandemic is over and about one-fifth developing new rituals around food.

The most willing groups to try a new snack in the "new normal" skew younger. Generation Z and millennials tend to be the most adventurous with nearly four in 10 (36 percent) saying they are likely to try a new snack option.

When choosing snacks to enjoy during the summer, Americans consider several important factors. The top deciding factor is convenience (86 percent) and staying true to favorites (83 percent), with only 22 percent of respondents taking budget into account.

When they find their favorite snacks, consumers are stocking up. Seventy-three (73) percent of respondents said they are likely to buy more than usual in store.

Americans are purchasing snacks through multiple channels.

While consumers say in-store shopping during this time has been stressful, they're still heading to the store. More than one-third of respondents (37 percent) feel stress shopping for groceries during the pandemic. And, while e-commerce snack sales are up 44 percent since March 1, consumers still largely prefer in-person shopping.

Forty-seven percent said that in-store is where they first look for their favorite snacks, and 47 percent say they can find all the snacks they want when shopping. IRI data confirms the in-person shopping preference for snacks as in-store sales of salty and savory snacks each grew more than 15 percent in the last eight weeks.

"While summer may be a very different experience for Americans this year, we expect Frito-Lay snacks will be there for consumers in new moments of enjoyment and togetherness," Williams concluded. "Our continued focus has been creating smiles with our snacks, even during these challenging times."

Frito-Lay's U.S. Snack Index was conducted by Morning Consult online among 2,200 American adults between May 1-4. Click here for more information.

Plano-based Frito-Lay is a convenient foods division of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc.