Snacking may very well be the new American pastime. According to the recent report from Mintel, “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes US 2015,” nearly all Americans (94%) snack at least once a day. What is more, half (50%) of adults snack two to three times per day with 70% agreeing that anything can be considered a snack these days.

Mintel’s research is pointing to the pervasive nature of snacking as only a year ago 64% of consumers said they often snack between meals, according to Mintel’s “The Snacking Occasion US 2014” report.

Furthermore, research from Mintel’s The Fifty (an e-book/magazine) highlights that more frequent snacking may be replacing standard daily meals. Americans also claim a preference for healthier snacking with 33% saying they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year, specifically those with simple ingredients and low calorie counts. However, they most often snack to satisfy a craving (62%), highlighting the important role taste and flavor play on snacking behavior. In fact, research from Mintel’s “Salty Snacks US 2015” report indicates that 63% of US consumers value the taste of salty snacks more than their nutrition.

Millennial Way of Life

Millennials (consumers ages 21-38) are significantly more likely to snack compared to older consumers with 24% of Millennials most likely to snack frequently, four or more times per day, and 23% snacking more this year compared to last year. When compared to other generations, Millennial consumers are more likely to be emotional or functional snackers. Nearly a third (27%) snack because they are bored and 17% snack because they are stressed. Mintel research also shows that the Millennial generation snacks for function and to stay focused throughout the day with 39% snacking for energy.

Overall, 62% of US consumers snack mainly to satisfy a craving. This is a strong driver for older consumers, especially those age 55-62 (70%). Nearly one-third of consumers (31%) snack for the practical reason that it’s not the right time to eat a meal (i.e., too early/too late). Other reasons are less functional and more emotional; according to Mintel research, one-quarter of Americans snack because they are bored—increasing from 23% in 2014 to 25% in 2015—while 16% do so because they are stressed.

“Our research shows that Millennials are more likely to snack compared to older generations as a means to fulfill emotional and functional needs, including combating boredom or stress and increasing energy and focus. Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats,” notes Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel. “Millennials are also more likely than older generations to indicate snacks with added nutrition and flavor variety are important to them. As a result they may be drawn to products with high fiber, energizing claims or protein content to stay satiated, as well as bold flavors to help add variety to their frequent snacking occasions and eliminate boredom.”

Both retail location and word of mouth are important influences on iGeneration/Millennials’ (consumers ages 18-38) snacking behavior. This generation is most likely to try a snack that has been recommended to them (68%) and most likely to go out of their way to buy snacks from a specific store (43%).

iGen/Millennials are drawn to organic snacks and products with added nutrition, including protein and vitamins. Ultimately, affordability is more important to this generation, creating an opportunity for health-focused or organic brands to reach them with low-cost snacking options.

Balance Health, Indulgence

Health plays a prevalent role in the types of snacks consumers are eating. More than one-third of snackers limit their intake of sweet snacks, such as cookies, candy and ice cream (34%). This is especially true among the Swing Generation/World War II or consumers ages 70 and older (45%). Furthermore, 33% of US consumers indicate they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year. According to Mintel research, the percentage of US adults who snack only on healthy foods has increased over time. In 2008-09, 25% of adults claimed to snack only on healthy foods, compared to 29% in 2013-14. 

Not only are consumers eating healthier snacks, but nearly one third (30%) of parents are serving healthier snacks to their children, particularly 33% of Millennial parents. While healthy snacking options are a win for US parents, 42% of households with children agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or re-sealable packages. Mintel’s research shows that convenience is one of the most important factors when selecting a snack; 77% of snackers prefer ready-to-eat snacks over those you have to prepare.

Despite these increases in healthy eating habits among US consumers, 60% wish there were more healthy snack options. However, Mintel research shows that even though consumers want more healthy snack options, they place more importance on taste and flavor than healthfulness when making purchase decisions. When it comes to choosing snack options, 74% of consumers agree flavor is more important than brand, while 51% agree taste is more important than health.

“With a third of consumers saying they are snacking on healthier options more often this year compared to last year, there will be an increasing need for better-for-you snacks, in smaller portions and convenient formats. This addresses consumers’ desire to balance both health and indulgence,” concludes Topper. “Mintel data shows that consumers, especially households with children, agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or re-sealable packages.”

Single-Person Snacking

Single-person households in the US are 38 million strong and growing, which stands to reason why this group has an impact on snacking in terms of eating behaviors, packaging, and marketing, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. The growth in snack foods being consumed at meal time are largely driven by people who are eating those meals by themselves, according to NPD’s recently released “Snacking in America” report.

In 2014, annual eatings per capita of snack foods consumed at meal times among solo diners reached 191 compared to 167 in 2011. Stretched across the US population, this represents a difference of billions of eating occasions.  Similar to larger households, health and weight management is among the key motivations to eat snack foods at meals for solo diners, particularly better-for-you snack foods, finds NPD. Tying into the rise of single-person homes, the most common over-indexing motivator cited across the better-for-you categories was the fact it came in a single-serve package.

Like a majority of other households, single-person households plan the snack foods that they will be eating at meals ahead of time, typically more than a day before. A significantly smaller amount of eating occasions include a snack food that was planned less than an hour before. Supermarkets tend to be the shopping outlets of choice for snack foods consumed at a meal.

“Smaller household sizes and eating alone are among the growing factors with snacking,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Food manufacturers and retailers should think about the unique needs of the solo consumer when developing products and packaging, and marketing messages should be crafted to be relevant to them and their snacking behaviors.”

Protein Positioning Helps Meat Snacks

Rapidly growing interest in protein content has been of particular benefit to the meat snacks market, where many products are naturally high in protein and have made increasing use of “high-in-protein” or “source-of-protein” claims. According to Innova Market Insights data, nearly 15% of global meat snacks launches in the 52 weeks to the end of April 2015 used protein claims, rising to more than 50% in the US.

“Even prior to the emergence of this enhanced interest in protein, the meat snacks market was showing good growth globally—reflecting the rising demand for more substantial snacks suitable for eating on the go,” she says.

With a few exceptions, including the US and South Africa, the market remains relatively undeveloped, however. Launch numbers remain small in terms of snacks introductions as a whole, with just 5.5% of the global total in the 52 weeks to the end of March 2015. Total numbers have risen consistently in recent years, however, reflecting ongoing segmentation in more established markets, such as the US, as well as greater penetration in non-traditional markets, particularly some of those in Europe.

Asia dominated activity with more than 60% of introductions, mainly as a result of the large number of traditional-style meat snacks being launched in China. North America, primarily the US, took second place ahead of Europe, where despite the large number of countries and cuisines involved, the relatively underdeveloped status of the market meant that activity levels were more limited.

Meat snacks are the fourth largest savory snacks category in the US after potato chips, tortilla chips and nuts/trail mixes. The market is dominated by jerky-style products and, despite being relatively mature, has shown good growth in recent years. Manufacturers have updated their product ranges to focus on a healthier image, more convenient packaging formats and a greater choice of increasingly complex flavor options, particularly hot and spicy variants, often with an ethnic twist. There has also been ongoing interest in extending the use of different types of meat beyond the traditional beef and turkey, with launches including chicken and bacon products.

With the underdeveloped status of the meat snacks market outside the US there are clearly further opportunities for growth, particularly if the image of the products can be delivered as tasty, healthy, substantial and convenient snacks for all occasions, boosted by ongoing product and promotional initiatives.

“Recent acquisition activity, both in the US and in Europe shows that the industry definitely thinks it is a market with still more potential to come,” Williams concludes.