With busy and demanding schedules, unconventional consumption occasions have become increasingly common. Consumer eating trends have shifted away from three set mealtimes towards snacking throughout the day. As a result, convenience has become a key feature for manufacturers and on-the-go consumers.

While ‘snacking’ used to mean popcorn, pretzels or crisps to satisfy late-night cravings, consumers are increasingly seeing snacks as meal replacement options.

Datassential estimates that consumers eat about four to five snacks a day now, creating numerous opportunities for brands looking to tap into the snacking sector.

This opportunity extends beyond grocery shelves: an analysis by Coca-Cola found that snacking accounts for 19% of total food service occasions. Furthermore, 81% of consumers surveyed have purchased a snack at a quick service restaurant, more than any other away-from-home category.

Meanwhile, research from Technomic reveals that consumers are now more likely to replace one or two meals per day with snacks than they were in 2016.

Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Technomic, said, “As busy consumers continue to seek convenience and replace meals with snacks, they look for grab-and-go boxes and heartier snacks like wings and crab bites to fill the hunger gap.”

Changing customer habits

Recently, the snacking sector saw a jump in new product development for better-for-you snacks, driven by consumers searching for satisfying, healthy food that tastes good, can be eaten on the go, and is low in sugar.

Snack companies are finding success in the ‘snackable’ dried fruit, nuts and seeds category, where produce is packaged into convenient individual items, and snacks are being redefined as somewhere between healthy and indulgent.

Plant-based inspired eating has increased consumption of tree nuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamias, hazelnuts, and dried fruits such as raisins, table dates, and apricots, as on-the-go convenient snacks that are considered healthy.

High-protein snacks such as jerky and cheese are also growing in popularity, as they offer consumers the ability to refuel and stave off hunger while on the go.

Cheese snacking has seen a major boost among health-conscious consumers as one of nature’s naturally functional whole foods that has been proved to have no negative health effects.

In order to appeal to consumers and tap into this market, companies started combining cheese with foods widely understood to improve health – such as fruit and meat – and packaging it in singleportion pots for on-the-go consumption.

Emerging categories

Christina Avison, insight manager at Zenith, said, “Snacking is an increasingly important part of our daily routine, but it is often associated with feelings of guilt and overindulgence. Attitudes are now changing, and the opportunity for nutrition as well as pleasure is being taken up by emerging categories. Consumers are moving away from sugary snacks in a bid to be healthier, so the opportunity for cheese snacks is substantial.”

In 2017, the largest market for cheese snacks was North America, capturing a 45% share, followed by Europe on 34% and Asia-Pacific with 12% of the market.

While the new product development sector is diverse, Zenith has condensed the key elements into ten global trends – from established traits like convenience, kids’ snacking and exciting flavours to emerging segments such as adult snacking, better-for-you, protein boost and texture.

“Three of the ten focus on health and functionality, three on fun and flavour, two on target age groups and two on other consumer benefits,” Avison concluded.