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Salty Snacks Feed Consumers' Emotional Needs

Millennials, parents and those who work from home at least some of the time have increased their consumption since last year.
snacking on chips

CHICAGO — Consumers are turning to salty snacks for comfort and familiarity during these inflationary times.

More than one quarter of consumers (27 percent) say they increased consumption of salty snacks vs. last year, led by millennials (47 percent), parents (46 percent), and those who are employed and work from home at least some of the time (42 percent), according to new research from market research firm Mintel.

The latest research shows that salty snacks are meeting more specific emotional needs for consumers, with more than two-thirds of buyers saying they choose snacks for relaxing and to satisfy a craving (67 percent, respectively), outpacing hunger as a motivator (58 percent).

For younger generations, the emotional appeal is even more defined — and it's on the rise, according to Mintel. Two in five millennials (39 percent) choose snacks to relieve boredom — up nearly 10 percentage points (30 percent) since 2018. What's more is one-third of millennials (34 percent) choose snacks to relieve stress today vs. 24 percent of millennials five years ago.

Consumers say they have increased consumption in the last year across all salty snack segments, with top growth seen across popular cheese-flavored snacks (6 percent), microwavable popcorn (7 percent) and corn snacks (8 percent), as well as the less mainstream snacks segment that includes chips/puffs made from vegetables, beans or ancient grains (7 percent).

"As consumers continue to navigate stressful and evolving times, salty snacks can be there to help them slow down and even relieve stress. Salty snacks are winning in their ability to satisfy cravings and meet emotional needs, expanding their role beyond a quick hunger-satisfying solution," said Kelsey Olsen, consumer insights analyst, food & drink at Mintel.

"Salty snacks must be versatile in their ability to meet different occasions, but at base, they must simply bring consumers joy. Brands must continue to help consumers make positive associations with snacks to further encourage permissibility on different occasions as well as facilitate an experience that meets more emotional needs like a snack positioned for self-care," Olsen said. 

Alternatively, research from Mintel reveals that consumers who report their financial situations as struggling/in trouble are most likely to have decreased year-over-year salty snack consumption (34 percent). Among those who haven't increased consumption, 37 percent would be motivated to purchase more salty snacks if there were more budget-friendly options.

In line with increasing inflation, 43 percent of consumers today consider the price of salty snacks to be the most important attribute vs. 37 percent in 2022. When it comes to other salty snack attributes, flavor (40 percent) and brand familiarity (40 percent) remain important to consumers.

"Budget constraints are challenging consumers across the board, and even though salty snacks are relatively affordable, they are not necessities. As consumers increase their snacking overall, brands will be challenged to find a mix of the familiarity and newness that consumers are seeking. Brands can meet these consumers with value options that offer them familiarity, like a box of Cheez-Its or a bag of Fritos, when the trial of new snacks may feel risky," Olsen said.

"Retailers also have a prime opportunity to provide value in their private-label salty snack offerings while showcasing that private brands can deliver on flavor and innovation. Winning brands will need a crave-worthy flavor experience at the forefront, with a foundation of comfort," Olsen added. 

Chicago-based Mintel has provided research and intelligence solutions to consumer-focused businesses for more than 50 years. It operates 14 global offices.

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