Protein and snacking are two megatrends that are now fully mainstream. That’s because busy consumers demand quick, nutritious, satisfying options that do more than just fill you up. Both of these trends are powerhouses and independently meet consumers’ needs well. Products that deliver protein in tasty and convenient snack-friendly formats will see growth in 2018.

Snacking behavior has been growing steadily to the point that 94% of US adults report snacking daily, with 15% snacking four or more times per day, according to Mintel’s 2017 Snacking Motivations and Attitudes report. We know snacking has many roles in consumers’ lives: it can be mindless munching, a treat or a hunger stopper. Yet today, one-quarter of snackers (26%) say they do so to eat healthier and one-third (32%) say the majority of snacks they eat are healthy. 

When we focus on Millennials between ages 18 to 24, the numbers jump to an astounding 98% that report snacking daily. For these younger consumers, snacking has transformed from the historical non-nutritive filler break (think chips, candy or popcorn) to a fully considered part of their total daily eating plan. Snacking is here to stay as an ongoing behavioral norm in the US. 

US consumers’ love affair with protein also has been growing. Our focus on protein and its many benefits has moved out of the gym and the realm of elite athletes and into the mainstream. 

Talk to Millennials and you hear that they want more protein and they know it’s important to build muscle, aid recovery post-workouts and provide both satiety and energy. However, they also clearly have no idea how much protein they should consume, or if there is any difference between protein sources. Their current understanding is that “protein is protein is protein” and “more is better.” Given this limited knowledge base, their in-store behavior is to make decisions on a category basis and look for the highest protein delivery item in a subcategory. I believe that we will see much more discussion and understanding on what types of protein are in packaged foods, more interest in plant versus animal protein and increased interest in the ideal amount of protein per serving. 

Protein snacking is here to stay, and expect younger consumers to challenge manufacturers to deliver packaged protein snacks with a minimum of 10g of protein per serving. Millennials also will push for better tasting snacks and reject the historically chalky, hard high-protein foods. Looking a bit further out, Gen Z will push interest in snacking and protein to a variety of protein sources from plant to bio-tech to insects that go beyond just animal-based solutions. These consumers will address sustainability along with personal convenience and taste.   

Originally appeared in the December, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Dynamic Duo.