The COVID-19 pandemic transformed people’s relationship with food. As out-of-home eating occasions were limited by stay-at-home orders (or consumers’ fear of the virus), people suddenly found themselves eating most of their meals at home. These channel shifts were truly unprecedented in their scale and scope—global consumer foodservice sales plummeted by 25%, while packaged food sales soared by nearly 8% in 2020.
Snacks, however, did not enjoy the same lift as the rest of packaged food. In fact, despite posting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.3% over the past decade, growth in the global snacks market slowed to just 3% in 2020—its slowest rate since 2009. On one hand, foodservice only represents a small share of total snack volumes, which left fewer traditional foodservice occasions to shift into retail channels. At the same time, emerging markets saw snack sales slow significantly as the economic fallout of the pandemic severely curtailed the ability of consumers to purchase nonessential products.
In developed markets, snacks fared much better, with total sales accelerating from historic averages. For people stuck at home and facing significant uncertainty, snacks provided a lifeline of comfort and indulgence for family movie nights or streaming video content. While this helped boost categories like savory snacks, cookies or ice cream, segments uniquely dependent on portability or social interactions were less fortunate. Snack bars, mints and gum, for instance, all saw sales decline in 2020—sometimes reversing years of strong growth.
Prioritizing health and wellness
While many consumers have long prioritized health and wellness when snacking, the pandemic intensified this focus in 2020. Given the increased risk posed by obesity and other health conditions with COVID-19, droves of people made diet a focal point during the pandemic. In early 2021, 50.8% of global respondents in Euromonitor International’s Health & Nutrition Survey rated their current eating habits as “healthy” or “extremely healthy.” This represents a 7.2 percentage point increase over 2019—a surge evident across all regions, income groups and generations—as healthy eating became a priority during the pandemic.
Manufacturers responded to this demand with a flurry of health and wellness innovations in 2020. Euromonitor’s Product Claims and Positioning database—which monitors the prevalence of product claims on tens of millions of SKUs across the world’s top 40 e-commerce markets—found a significant jump in health-related claims between 2019 and 2020.
The rise of ‘permissible indulgence’
This rise in health consciousness was accompanied by a spike in stress and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Together, these trends worked to make the concept of “permissible indulgence” more important than ever, as consumers sought to treat themselves with snacks that were also aligned with their dietary and health goals.
To continue reading this article, find the full version in the “Innovation in the healthy snack space” digital magazine.
Jared Koerten is the head of packaged food at Euromonitor International. A recognized expert in market trends, he has spent nearly a decade researching the industry. Koerten oversees research across 100 markets and provides strategic insight and analysis on developments shaping the global food and pet care landscape. He is frequently a featured speaker at major industry conferences and is regularly cited in the press.