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U.S. Consumers Continue to Enjoy a Snacking Lifestyle

Snackers are looking for a balance between indulgence and better for you, according to the "State of Snacking" at the 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo.
Melissa Kress
A woman buying a bag of chips

INDIANAPOLIS — After years of the same old, same old, the traditional snacks category is ready to embrace new ideas and new products, but it is still grappling with some challenges. 

"Innovation is back," said Sally Lyons Wyatt, global executive vice president and chief advisor, consumer goods and foodservice insights at Circana. 

Presenting the "State of Snacking" at the 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo, Wyatt pointed out that the snacking journey has traveled some bumpy roads and still has some hurdles to clear. "The universe in which we compete is much different than in the past," she said.

[Read more: Convenience Stores Hit the Sweet Spot With Consumers]

Looking at the headwinds facing the category, Wyatt called out the macroeconomic impacts, or trends, that are impacting snacks. "Prices are about 30% higher for the consumer vs. 2019. That has outpaced wage growth. That creates a problem for consumers, especially low-income consumers who are having difficulties trying to afford anything that they want to buy, let alone snacks," she explained. 

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Supply chain issues and new diet trends — including weight loss drugs — have also had an effect on snacking. However, even with these challenges, U.S. consumers are still snacking — though maybe not as much.

"This year, 46% of consumers are saying that they're snacking three-plus snacks a day. That's 3 points lower than last year," Wyatt said, noting that it was similar to five years ago, signaling a trend. 

According Circana's data, core snacks — or traditional snacks — account for a $214 billion universe in the United States. The channel is growing thanks to two key drivers: variety and the balance between indulgent and better-for-you snacks. 

Among the unit-change leaders in 2023 were corn snacks (not tortilla chips), sugarless gum, dairy natural chunk cheese, yogurt and tortilla/tostada chips. Among the volume-change leaders were sugarless gum, yogurt, nonchocolate candy, ice milk frozen dessert, and cut snacks.

[Read more: Leveraging the Forecourt to Drive Impulse Sales]

"I think one of the things we will see in 2024 is consumers going back to that balance [between indulgent and better for you]," she said. "Indulgence will never go away. I have been doing this for too long and I will tell you no matter how good it gets and how bad it gets, indulgence is still part of the mix."

And while U.S. consumers are still embracing a snacking lifestyle, they are shifting where they purchase snacks. Last year's numbers show growth in club stores, convenience stores, dollar stores and quick-service restaurants. Channels that lost ground in 2023 include grocery stores, mass merchants, drugstores and pure-play e-commerce. 

Consumers are also shifting between pack sizes — sometimes large to small and other times, small to large. Either way, affordability is the main driver, Wyatt said. Accordingly, they are shifting between premium brands and mainstream brands, and between mainstream brands and private-label brands. 

When it comes to motivation, 56% of consumers cite emotion as playing a role in their snacking needs. Alpha, younger Generation Z and Generation X consumers drive snacking occasions where the need state is "favorite routine," "yummy" or "reward me."

"These three groups are going through a shift of their own, whether it's going from living at home to being out on their own or going into school, higher level education. It could be starting families, it could be having kids, it could be kids leaving. It could be all of that," Wyatt explained. 

[Read more: Shifting Consumer Behaviors Blur the Lines Between Snacking & Meals]

Other notable callouts in snacking trends include:

  • Consumers younger than 18 years old are snacking 4.9 times per day vs. 3.5 times per day for those aged 18 and older. 
  • 50% of consumers state that they often eat snacks instead of a meal because they are on the go — up 6 points since 2019. 
  • 81% of consumers look for value when purchasing snacks and 74% look at the price when choosing a snack. 

"The fact that we continue to see an uptick in [snacking] occasions, that it is indeed a lifestyle, it shouldn't just be an aisle, it should be an occasion area in the store," Wyatt said. "I want the industry to start really rallying around the snack occasion. Occasion management, I believe, is something you will have buzzing through the next five years because it isn't just about managing categories, it's about managing the occasion."

Consumers do not necessarily walk into a store because they're looking for a category, she added. "They're walking in to solve an occasion. What am I going to snack on? What am I going to do for this party? What am I going to do for dinner? That's an occasion, it's not a category," she emphasized. 

The 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo took place May 14-16 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The annual trade show features new product launches, business-building solutions and merchandising innovations. The event is sponsored by the National Confectioners Association, the leading trade organization for the $48 billion U.S. confectionery industry. 

About the Author

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2010. Melissa handles much of CSNews' hard news coverage, such as mergers and acquisitions and company financial reports, and the technology beat. She is also one of the industry's leading media experts on the tobacco category.

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