Conagra Brands exec talks summertime snacking trends

The return of in-person gatherings has changed Canadians' food and drink preferences, particularly when it comes to snacking
paul hogan
Paul Hogan. Photography courtesy Conagra Brands

We’re now in the dog days of summer, and social circles are thriving again with a return to in-person gatherings. That means getting together for activities like pool parties, park picnics, team sports and casual at-home entertaining.

Canadians’ packed summertime schedules have been steering changes in their food and drink needs and preferences, particularly when it comes to snacking. In the wake of COVID isolation, Ipsos Global Trends 2023 report says that many younger generations in particular put a premium on in-person interactions, cultivating hobbies or joining in on activities that give them a sense of face-to-face connection. 

READ: Snacking in the pandem-flation era

Conagra Brands is one of the leading CPG companies in the snacking category, with a portfolio of brands that includes Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP, Orville Redenbacher, Snack Pack (puddings and juicy gels), Slim Jim meat sticks and Glutino, a gluten-free line of products like pretzels, crackers, cookies and wafers.

Based in Toronto, Paul Hogan is the vice-president and general manager, international, for Conagra Brands, where in addition to overseeing business growth in Canada, Mexico and other global markets, he is also the Canadian GM. 

He spoke with Canadian Grocer about snacking trends, including how often Canadians snack on spicy foods, which is driving most of the growth in the category. 

orville caramel surprise popcorn balls
Orville Caramel Surprise Popcorn Balls. Photography courtesy Conagra Brands

How has the snacking category been evolving after the pandemic? 

For the past few years, people’s eating habits have been transformed. And not only overall post-pandemic, but also seasonally as social events pick up over the summer – we’re seeing more snacking at social events, especially with younger generations. The pandemic changed the way and places in which we eat, both social and at home, so we’re also seeing more snacking at home during more occasions. 

READ: Four things to know about popcorn

So how often are Canadians snacking these days? 

Snacking levels have surged post-pandemic, with Canadians leaning into a wider variety of snacking options throughout the day. Notably, Canadians snack 4.5 times per day, up 7% from 2019 (Ipsos, Canada Chats 2023), which helps keep the snacking category relatively powerful even through economic uncertainty. 

boomchickapop sweet chili puffs
Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP Sweet Chili Puffs. Photography courtesy Conagra Brands

What snack categories and flavours do you see Canadians gravitating to the most?  

We’re seeing a gravitation towards spicy snacks, which has picked up tons of popularity over the past couple of years. According to research, the number one snacking motivation is to “satisfy a craving,” with “wanting something spicy” driving the category. That’s one of the reasons Conagra Brands Canada is launching BOOMCHICKAPOP’s Sweet Chili Puffs this fall. 

How is Conagra working with grocers to help drive sales of the category?  

We work closely with our retail partners, particularly on our shopper marketing campaigns. We’re seeing events, adjacencies and larger shopper marketing programs really come back after the pandemic. This has given us a great opportunity to work together and create something unique. We have found great success when we tie these campaigns to timely events, like Easter, Canada Day and so on. Further, driving sales includes working together on standard retailer-specific tactics like end caps, in-store blades and in-app offers, alongside keyword-targeted ads.  

READ: How grocers can maintain momentum in centre store

We have also been working closely to identify the optimal shelf set and placement within store. Having the right offerings that shoppers can easily locate is critical to continued growth of this category and delivering on consumer needs. 

chocolate lovers popcorn balls
"Chocolate Lover's Popcorn Balls." Photography courtesy Conagra Brands

There is a trend towards consumers using snacks as a meal replacement. How is this impacting the snacking category and product development?  

With more consumers trading in their meals for snacks, we know snacks with nutritional value are becoming more important for the average consumer, which we take into consideration when developing new products. Snacks offering high protein, fibre and other nutritional needs will remain king.

READ: Snacking surge: How brands and retailers can satisfy consumer cravings

Your role includes overseeing international markets. What trends are you seeing in other countries that could make its way to Canada?  

We’re constantly reviewing international trends and trying to match with what we see Canadians like. Our country’s multicultural landscape provides us with opportunities to delight people from all backgrounds, so we look into adjusting as necessary based on both local and international data, with the constant objective of satisfying the needs and cravings of our consumers.

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