In April of 2021, IRI hosted a webinar called “The Snacking Frenzy in 2021 and Beyond,” which told an encouraging story for food brands: At-home eating occasions skyrocketed amid COVID-19 lockdowns, and 79% of core snack categories saw a sales increase.
IRI also noted that in 2020, one-quarter of consumers said they were snacking more frequently, mostly for enjoyment (66% of consumers said so) but also to satisfy hunger (49%). The bottom line? On average, consumers ate five or more snacks per day in 2020, which is up 3 points since 2016.
This data supports what many experts are saying is a new day for snacks. According to Barbara Jensen, sales development manager for dairy and bakery at Arla Foods Ingredients, the snack market is divided into two main categories right now, and it’s not sweet versus salty. It’s treating versus snacking. “Treating is all about occasional indulgence,” she explained, whereas snacking serves to satiate hunger.
In the latter case, consumers prioritize nutrition and health benefits like protein, fiber, vitamins and other types of fortification, especially if the snack serves as a meal replacement. They may also seek out organic options, vegan claims and other alternatives with a health halo. “In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted more consumers to put even more thought into what they are eating,” stated Gary Augustine, vice president of marketing at Van Drunen Farms. “They are now more aware of how the foods we eat impact our immunity and overall health.”
This awareness is not limited to meal replacements; it’s also impacting brands and products in the “treating” category. Better-for-you indulgent snacks are increasingly becoming staples of the clean label snack food market because they satisfy multiple consumer needs. On one hand, consumers seek comfort from yummy snacks during a stressful time; however, they also want to avoid overdoing it on sugar, calories and artificial ingredients. “The need for healthy snacks that boost immunity, provide a calming, stress-relieving effect, and soothe the soul are ranking higher and higher in consumers’ minds,” agreed Kimberly Cornelius, senior food scientist of industrial ingredients at Wixon.
As a result of this paradigm shift, the availability of clean label snack options on the market has increased significantly, maintained Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager at Cargill. These products were once the purview of small and regional brands, and mostly relegated to health food stores. Today, she said, major CPG companies are bringing label-friendly snacks to the mainstream, and all brands (large and small) have made significant leaps in their capability to provide great-tasting and visually appealing clean label alternatives.
This article was excerpted from a longer piece, “Natural snacks? Step aside. Regardless of the claim, snack consumers want specifics.” To read it in its entirety, check out the “Innovation in the healthy snack space” digital magazine.
Melissa Kvidahl Reilly is a freelance writer and editor with 10 years of experience covering news and trends in the natural, organic and supplement markets. She lives and works in New Jersey.