Busy, on-the-go lifestyles are changing the way many American consumers approach their eating habits, which has led to a break from the typical three-square meal mindset. Today, nearly all Americans (94 percent) say they snack at least once a day, and more than half of adults snack two to three times per day, according to a recent report from Mintel.
What’s more, the report—“Snacking Motivations and Attitudes US 2015”—says 70 percent of Americans consider anything to be a snack today. These results show a significant change from consumer attitudes toward snacking one year ago when only 64 percent of consumers admitted to snacking between meals in 2014.
According to the report, 33 percent of Americans prefer snacking on healthier foods with simple ingredients and lower calories. However, Mintel’s report also says most snacking is done to satisfy a craving such as one for salty or sweet flavors, showing how important a role taste plays in consumers’ desires.
As for who is doing the snacking, Mintel reports Millennials—consumers age 21 to 38—are significantly more likely to snack compared to older consumers. Millennials also are most likely to snack frequently—four or more times per day; and 23 percent are snacking more this year compared to last year. Compared to other generations, Millennial consumers are more likely to be emotional or functional snackers, grabbing food either out of boredom or a need for energy.
“Our research shows Millennials are more likely to snack, compared to older generations, as a means to fulfill emotional and functional needs, including combating boredom or stress and increasing energy and focus,” says Amanda Topper, food analyst at Mintel. “Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats. Millennials are also more likely than older generations to indicate snacks with added nutrition and flavor variety are important to them. As a result, they may be drawn to products with high fiber, energizing claims or protein content to stay satiated, as well as bold flavors to help add variety to their frequent snacking occasions and eliminate boredom.”
Health plays a prevalent role in the types of snacks consumers are eating. More than one-third of snackers limit their intake of sweet items, such as cookies, candy and ice cream (34 percent). According to the Mintel research, the percentage of adults who snack only on healthy foods has increased over time. In 2008 to 2009, 25 percent of adults claimed to snack only on healthy foods, compared to 29 percent in 2013 to 2014.
Convenience is also a major factor in the minds of consumers when it comes to snacks; 77 percent say they prefer ready-to-eat snacks over those needing preparation.
“With a third of consumers saying they are snacking on healthier options more often this year compared to last year, there will be an increasing need for better-for-you snacks, in smaller portions and convenient formats. This addresses consumers’ desire to balance both health and indulgence,” Topper says. “Mintel data shows that consumers, especially households with children, agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or resealable packages. This highlights a need for balance between convenience and affordability, knowing the importance many consumers, especially younger consumers, place on affordable snacks.”