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Why & When C-store Shoppers Turn to Salty Snacks

MINNEAPOLIS — As the third-largest food and beverage category and one that has been growing at more than 5 percent for the last five years, salty snacks make up one of the top destinations for convenience store shoppers and a major growth opportunity for c-store operators.

To help retailers maximize salty snack sales, General Mills Convenience & Foodservice conducted a consumer survey to better understand shoppers' perception of the category and provide guidance on creating the right product mix.

Overall, salty snacks are an impulse-driven category. Sixty-eight percent of c-store food and beverage purchases are unplanned and purchased on impulse once seen in the store, and 85 percent of shoppers eat c-store snacks quickly after purchase.

Afternoon solo snacking is the most common c-store snacking occasion, with 95 percent of shoppers saying they generally eat their snacks alone.

At the same time, emotional needs remain the primary driver for c-store snacking, as 70 percent of shoppers cite mood enhancement, such as a treat or reward, as their top reason for buying a salty snack. Primary purchase motivators include "something that tastes great" and "something that satisfies a craving," shoppers said. They will also choose salty snacks for functional reasons, such as staving off hunger and to pair with a beverage.

The survey also found that c-store shoppers segment salty snacks into four big groups. Within these groups, salty snacks satisfy 10 specific consumer needs:

  • Salty Craving — This largest group represents 55-percent unit share of salty snacks and meets the needs of Old Standbys (chips, puffs in traditional flavors with broad appeal); Spicy Adventure (crunchy with hot and bold flavors; more adult); and Change It Up (crunchy, salty and flavorful, but not spicy).
  • Healthier — Representing 29-percent unit share of salty snacks, healthier products meet four consumer needs: Natural Satiety (sensible, healthy, real food such as trail mix or nuts); Pass the Time (sunflower seeds to relieve boredom); Better for You (guilt-free satisfaction; traditional salty craving alternatives); and Meaty Goodness (protein for energy, weight loss; real food).
  • Bold Substance — Representing 15-percent unit share of salty snacks, Bold Substance meets two consumer needs: Bold Meaty Fix (protein for energy boost and bold flavor enjoyment) and Enhanced Experience (multi-form products for variety and satiety).
  • Sweet Craving — The smallest group represents 1-percent unit share of salty snacks and meets consumer cravings for sweet and salty and indulgent snacks.

"Consumers use salty snacks to feel better; as a reward, as a treat to help satisfy cravings or as a way to disconnect from their busy lives. Taste is the first and foremost driver for salty snack purchases, but the ways shoppers satisfy their salty cravings help differentiate the multitude of products available," stated Kelly Kees, consumer insights researcher at General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. "Retailers need to ensure they have a broad assortment of salty products. Spicy snacks, salty/sweet snacks and different product forms like snack mixes fulfill additional consumer needs beyond the initial salty craving, like health, satiety or passing the time."

Minneapolis-based General Mills Convenience & Foodservice serves the convenience, foodservice and bakery industries.

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