Snacking has become so ubiquitously part of the U.S. dining culture that the trend has begun to blur the lines between retail and foodservice. As a result, retail and foodservice purveyors are catering to the trend with an increased number and variety of “snackable” items, according to What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices, a new report by market research publisher Packaged Facts. 


Survey data published in the report reveal that in 2014, two-thirds of adult respondents claimed they at least “somewhat agree” that they often snack between meals, up from 62% in 2004. And as snacking evolves, snacks are increasingly serving as a meal substitute. This explains why the incidence for consumption of several smaller meals throughout the day is also trending higher: in 2004, a third of survey respondents reported they ate several small meals throughout the day, while ten years later, 39% of respondents indicate they do the same.

Restaurant menu innovation clearly acknowledges the blurring of traditional mealtimes in favor of snacking and smaller meals. Restaurant operators are keenly aware of the opportunities snack menus provide—a snack is often viewed as a healthier alternative to an entire meal; snacks cost less than typical entrees, appealing to cost-conscious patrons; and snacks are suitable for today’s 24/7 on-the-go consumers, who are less inclined to plan their day around traditional mealtimes. For restaurants, snacks come with the added bonus that they can draw in hungry diners at any hour of the day, not necessarily during regular meal times. Snacks also have the universal appeal to be an “add-on” to a regular meal as an appetizer. Notes Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle, “We expect to see continued innovation of mini or bite-sized items and small plates as these items allow operators to focus on snacks as the fourth meal as well as a sharable dining experience.”

Packaged Facts identifies five trends at play in marketing menu items as being a viable snack or shareable innovation: mini items, bites, sliders, sampler platters, and shareable items.

• Smaller versions of entrées and classic menu items remain at the forefront of snack/small plate menu innovation.

• Bite-sized items help restaurant-goers balance indulgence with moderation. Bite-sized menu item innovation caters to a range of “poppable” savory eats.

• While sliders have become an appetizer menu stalwart, they have also branched well beyond the confines of the burger.

• Sampler platters allow more customers to get greater variety while managing their cost per party. And restaurant operators can showcase their signature items in the bargain. Modernizing sampler platters translates to customizable options, signature items, and creative sauces.

• While sampler platters are designed for sharing and often promoted as such, restaurant operators are also positioning regular menu items as “shareable.”

In the retail sector, major packaged food marketers are aligning their strategies and assets with the massive consumer shift toward snacking as a way of life. As the retail food market continues to meet the growing snack culture of our society, product innovation will continue to focus on packaging and health to make products appear more snack-friendly. Important retail snacking trends impacting how America eats include:

• The emergence of convenient packaging formats has made it easier for consumers to eat while on the go. Single-serve tubs, cups, or bags help snackers control both portion sizes and calorie counts. Examples include Crunch Pak, Wholly Guacamole and Blue Bell Creamery.

• Soda marketers such as Coca-Cola are turning to sleek “mini” cans as a way to bring back lapsed users and tap into the snacking opportunity that exists for beverages.

• Other products meet the need for convenient, on-the-go snacks, such Emerald Nut’s Breakfast On the Go snack mixes. While the brand targets a specific meal replacement positioning, the product has all-day snack potential.

• And health positioning can make snackers feel good about their choice. What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices helps food retail and foodservice industry participants adapt to and plan for important consumer trends. To do so, the report leverages consumer survey analysis to trend relevant consumer attitudes and behaviors over a 10-year period of time; draws from menu database analysis to identify relevant menu item trends and related restaurant innovation; and draws from retail product introductions and success stories to explore related food retail trends. Proprietary survey results are used to explore—among other topics and themes—the relationship between BMI and food choice and amount of exercise and food choice; snacking; processed food and real food within the context of changing consumer eating choices over time; and consumer food preferences and motivations at restaurants versus at home.

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