Among adults, taste is the top criteria when choosing snacks for themselves, but when the snack is for their children, parents contend that nutrition takes top billing, according to a study from Cargill on US consumer snack preferences. 

The survey gauged attitudes across four key snack categories—including snack bars, salty snacks, candy and sweet baked goods—and it explored consumers’ decision-making processes when choosing snacks for themselves and their children. 

“American mealtime habits have been shifting away from the traditional family-centered, three-square-meals-a-day model, toward smaller, snack-oriented meals that are often eaten more frequently, alone and on-the-go,” says Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager for Cargill. 

Stauffer notes that as eating habits have changed, so too have consumer expectations for the snacks they purchase for themselves and their children.

Across the board, Cargill found both adult consumers and parents perceived non-GMO, organic and the use of “natural” sweeteners as important in all four of the snack categories reviewed. On the flip side, GMOs, and artificial ingredients topped the list of things shoppers tried to avoid. 

Functional benefits were also important, especially to parents purchasing snacks for their children. 

“As snacks replace traditional meals, parents are embracing options that have clear nutritional value – things like protein, whole grains and fiber,” Stauffer says. “While a few years ago, interest in products with health benefits was limited to snack bars, that’s not the case today. We found consumers wanted nutritional benefits in salty snacks and increasingly, baked goods too.”

There were exceptions in the findings. While caffeine was a turn-off for parents across all snack categories, it was less an issue for adults purchasing snacks for themselves. Conversely, while one in three (35%) adults ranked low sodium as a key consideration in their salty snack selection, it registered as a top concern for just 10% of parents.

Research also found sugar content remains on consumers’ radar, but the degree of scrutiny varied based on the application and who was consuming the product. Adults buying snack bars for themselves were far more likely to avoid products with sugar as compared to bars for children. However, when it came to candy, respondents expressed higher interest in sugar-free candy for their children.

Stauffer says the study’s findings can be used to help guide product development efforts. As an example, company researchers have created a chocolate chip cookie prototype that reflects consumer desires for products that deliver nutritional benefits and are made with label-friendly ingredients. The cookie features PURIS® pea protein, tapioca syrup, Purified sea salt and non-GMO, RSPO mass-balanced palm oil.

Additional details on the Cargill study are available in the white paper “Snacking Solutions: Understanding the Modern Snack-Food Consumer."

About the Study

The study, “Snack Foods Opportunity Research,” was conducted in partnership with Decision Analysts on a nationally representative sampling of 1,232 US adult grocery shoppers, completed in September 2019.