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Variety Is the Spice of…Snacks?


CHICAGO — For convenience store operators to take full advantage of the opportunistic snacking industry, they must first ask themselves: “How do I interrupt my customer’s path to purchase with my merchandise to increase basket size?”

At the National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo, taking place in Chicago this week, Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader at IRI Worldwide, presented the “State of the Snack Food Industry” and examined just how powerful consumers’ snacking needs and desires are.  

There are multiple factors molding the snacking phenomenon, according to Wyatt. Among them:

  • Consumers are straying from frozen products and seeking fresh snacks.
  • Consumers are searching for "healthier" products vs. "healthy" products. There is great potential for retailers to balance the two to drive incremental growth. 
  • Variety, price and availability are critical drivers of snack product sales because “retail is playing the game of variety.” 

An average of 2.7 percent of Americans consume snacks daily. Additionally, 46 percent snack three-plus times a day, a 5-point increase vs. one year ago, Wyatt cited.

“That shows there is such significance for this show and for this industry,” she told the packed audience. 

Highlighting specific areas of growth opportunity, Wyatt first pointed to kids. IRI data shows 28 percent of households with children snack more frequently than households without children. Thirty-four percent of households with children also buy more portable snacks vs. 15 percent of childless households. This attests to the demographic of "the on-the-go family," Wyatt said, predicting households with small children (ages 4 to 8) and teens (ages 12 to 17) will continue to drive sales. 

Another area of opportunity is variety, especially in the snacking categories of frozen novelties, non-chocolate and chocolate. This includes variety packs, featuring multiple flavor profiles. 

While many packs feature "traditional" flavors, new innovation is causing variety packs to include traditional and a "Wild Card" flavor. Wild Card flavors may include trending profiles like spicy, tangy and sour, to name a few.

When purchasing variety packs, consumers indicate their top five reasons for the buy are:

  • 92 percent say taste is paramount;
  • 88 percent say it includes a taste they prefer;
  • 82 percent say they are seeking snacks with value;
  • 62 percent are looking for a snack at a low price; and
  • 36 percent want gourmet.

“This industry has an opportunity to drive a trail of flavors and options,” Wyatt remarked, adding that with more consumers than ever concerned about eating and snacking healthy, wellness plans are playing a major role is snacking choices, too. The introduction of more plant-based proteins like quinoa and chia have consumers gravitating toward snacks with benefits.


During her Sweets & Snacks Expo presentation, Wyatt also took some time to address snacking specifically in the convenience channel. 

When asked by a Convenience Store News editor how c-stores affect snacking sales growth, Wyatt replied that with a 4.7-percent compound annual growth rate, c-stores meet consumers’ need for convenience and value.

“C-stores have done a great job with assortment and availability, allowing shoppers to find variety,” she explained. “C-stores are capitalizing on the ‘small size’ trend of snacks and this segmentation allows for individuality in purchases.”

Some areas that convenience stores can mine for further growth are: 

  • Merchandise products that apply to kids;
  • Collaborate with partners to carry what’s best for your store;
  • Carry the “right size” variety offerings;
  • Leverage holidays and seasons;
  • Take a “menu” approach when it comes product offerings; and
  • Take advantage of global flair and bold combo products.

The 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo concluded Thursday at Chicago’s McCormick Place. 

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