Consumers are snacking more than ever. They also are increasingly “switching up” the kinds of items they reach for between meals, with both healthy and not-so-healthy snacks in demand.   

In its recently released “2012 Snacking Consumer Trend Report,” Technomic found two fifths (40%) of consumers acknowledge they’re snacking more on healthier items than they did two years ago. Women were far more likely than men (46% vs. 33%) to indicate a tendency toward healthier snack options, which aligns with Technomic’s recurring findings that women are more health-conscious eaters than men.

Health-minded snackers are gravitating toward fresh fruit, yogurt and smoothies, to name a few options. Yet, these healthful snacking preferences are not shared by all.

Technomic also found an increase in the demand for slightly indulgent, not-so-healthy items that skew to the sweet and the salty. More than 10% of consumers report they have upped their consumption of both sweet and salty snacks compared to two years ago; 13% noted as much about salty snacks; 12% about sweet snacks.

Foodservice operators are increasingly heeding the call for snacks that fall on both sides of the healthy eating spectrum—good-for-you offerings as well as the occasional sweet or salty item that’s designed to satisfy cravings.

Notable restaurant examples include TCF Co. LLC’s The Cheesecake Factory, which recently hopped on the healthy snack bandwagon with the rollout of its SkinnyLicious Menu of drinks, appetizers and entrées. Healthy snacking options from that menu include Mushroom Lettuce Wraps, White Chicken Chili and SkinnyLicious Grilled Artichoke starters. Another example is Copeland’s of New Orleans, which recently added an array of snack offerings to its 550 Calories and Under menu, such as Miso Sugar Snap Peas and Creamless Creamed Corn.

Meanwhile, other operators are taking the salty or sweet snack approach. Fried pickles, a traditionally salty snack, are popping up on the menus at chains such as Colton’s Steak House & Grill and Zaxby’s. New milkshakes (a popular and portable sweet snack) are being introduced at venues such as Ruby’s Diner, Fosters Freeze and Burgerville. And, MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream and Treatery is getting in on both tastes simultaneously with its Chocolate Salted Pretzel Sundae.

Consumers want variety with their snacks. They want healthy options they can feel good about, even when they’re watching what they eat. They also want the occasional not-so-good-for-you snack for when they’re not as vigilant. The best approach for retailers, operators and manufacturers is to ensure their snack product lines are diverse and run the gamut from the healthy to the indulgent. pf