Nearly a Quarter of Snack Foods Eaten at Main Meals

CHICAGO — Snacking has become a daily ritual in recent years, especially among health-conscious, convenience-seeking consumers who incorporate eating a snack food as part of their main meals.

While most snack foods are eaten between meals, snack foods eaten at main meals now represent 24 percent of all snack food eating, up 21 percent from five years ago, according to The NPD Group's latest report, Generation Study: The Evolution of Eating.  

The trend of eating snack foods at main meals is being driven primarily by Generation Z and millennials. These two age demographics are more comfortable eating alone compared to previous generations, and snack foods offer a low-cost, smaller-portioned alternative that fits that lifestyle, NPD cited. Gen Z and millennials are also shifting toward fresh foods and foods with a healthy halo, which is why fresh fruit and refrigerated yogurt are among the top snack foods included in main meals.

As Gen Z and millennials age, their interest in consuming snack food at main meals is expected to continue. Annual eatings per capita of snack food at main meals is forecast to grow by 12 percent by 2024, the study found.

With 12 billion snack visits made to restaurants and other foodservice outlets, snacking replaces an away-from-home meal most often at lunch. Nearly half of foodservice visits occur during the lunch timeframe (48 percent), while 23 percent occur in the morning and 30 percent occur in the evening.

"Although consumers are not adding new snacking occasions to the day, there is a shift in what's eaten at main meals and how snacking is viewed," stated David Portalatin, vice president, industry analysis, The NPD Group. "Consumers today expect snacks to work for them; the snack is no longer just a reward. Snack foods that offer consumers flexibility on price, portion size, and portability allow them to compose an eating occasion that fits their specific needs at the time, whether they look at it as a snack, meal replacement or part of a main meal occasion."

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