Snacks are no longer the sidekick to meals. In the last couple years, the global sales for snack products has reached $374 billion, dethroning the time-old tradition of three square meals a day from its long-held spot. Increasingly, consumers are choosing snacks as meal replacements as our rigidity around food and beverage relaxes.

As consumers lifestyles have become more demanding the need for flexible options with low prep and clean up developed. While many people still idealize sitting down for a meal, the reality is that eating is not happening at a set location and time. "We are grazing all day long," said Melissa Abbott, vice president of culinary insights for the Hartman Group, on Monday at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. "Consumers are on the go so much that they are taking food with them."

Moreover, single adults are a growing part of the American population, so demand for individually portioned products is increasing as more people dine by themselves. At one time, the thought of dining solo carried with it a connotation of isolation, but it is now an accepted part of modern life, with 47 percent of all adult eating occasions occurring alone. In fact, many relish in this time as an opportunity to recharge and explore new foods and flavors that interest them. And for some age groups this time is seen as an opportunity to be productive with millennials 50 percent more likely to use alone occasions for getting things done, explained Abbott.

With 80 percent of snacking now being purposeful, people are being much more deliberate about their choices with an emphasis on foods that aid in energy and weight management. There is "aspiration around wanting to eat more fruits and vegetables," said Abbott. She also cited the rise of beverages as a snack since something like a turmeric juice satisfies individuals' desires to have something healthy while allowing them to try a different flavor profile.

While nutrition, convenience and price are concerns, consumers, particularly millennials, want the companies they are buying from to also represent their value system. This generation tends to be interested in a company's story around how a product was made and the origin of ingredients. Compared to Generation X or baby boomers, millennials are more likely to make food choices based off whether organic and/or natural ingredients were used and if a product was grown and/or manufactured locally.

As we shift to being a culture of snackers, the industry will be forced to adapt to changing preferences. The good news for food companies though is that consumers will be ready to open their wallets and spend more on a higher quality product if it equates to convenience. Because as Abbott so aptly stated, "The most expensive thing is time."

Published on: Jan 19, 2016
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