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The evolution of snacking

Snacks represent a huge opportunity, but to unlock growth you need to understand your snackers

There's no right or wrong way to snack, and at nearly $6 billion and counting, the snacking category is experiencing a revolution in Canada. Considering that consumers snack beyond what is traditionally defined as “snack foods,” it becomes clear that the snack opportunity increases by nearly three times to $16 billion as how we snack evolves.

But for retailers and manufacturers, how well do you know your snackers? What will their next snack be? Have they already decided or will they pick something up on a whim? Will they go for a trusted favourite or try something new? Will they eat it on their own or share it with family and friends? Do they snack every day or is it more confined to a particular time of the week, maybe even just a weekend indulgence?

The traditional approach to the snacking category has been widely based on the view that snacking decisions are generally unplanned and, therefore, brands need to make themselves highly visible in store to be considered. The belief is that shoppers only decide to buy a snack when they’re at the shelf and where impulsive cues and instinct, combined with price, take over as the deciding factors.

However, this isn’t the case today. The snacking category is now much more expansive, and its purpose is not only to meet an immediate shopper need, but to create new shopper needs and occasions. In fact, Canadian consumers today choose, on average, 12 different types of snack foods every month. And manufacturers are giving consumers more choices than ever before. Across the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) landscape in 2018, nearly 20,000 new food products were launched, with 12% (2,439) of those products being snack foods.

As expected, consumers snack for enjoyment (86%) or a reward or treat (78%), but more of us are snacking with a conscience as we look to nutrition (62%) to fuel our on-the-go lifestyles, and grab a snack and skip a meal (40%). As the reasons for why we snack evolve, so do the snack choices consumers make as they enter different life stages. With diversity in snacking preferences fuelled by gender and age, you need a variety of options in your store to meet consumer demand. Younger generations (millennials, gen Z) prefer indulgent snacks including chocolate (65%), chips (61%), cookies (59%), sandwiches (56%) and cheese (54%). Older generations (boomers, gen X), on the other hand, prefer somewhat healthier choices of fruit (70%), cheese (67%), chips (58%), nuts and seeds (55%) and cookies (55%).

As consumers make different choices, this is impacting the categories that are trending in traditional snack categories. The top five snack categories are likely what you expect (cheese, salty snacks, chocolate, yogurt and baked desserts), while the top five growth categories show there are opportunities for indulgence, convenience and health; these categories include marshmallow treats (+14%), ready-to-eat pudding (+14%), apple sauce (+14%), meat sticks/jerky (+12%) and prepared dips (+9%). The declining categories, on the other hand, tend to lean toward the more indulgent side: pudding mixes (-35%), frozen yogurt (-8%), candied snacks (-2%), yogurt (-1%) and ice cream (-1%).

We have already noted that the traditional snack category is worth $6 billion, but the potential opportunity beyond the snack aisle is nearly $16 billion as consumers look to new options to satisfy their snacking desires. Consumers want variety and are always looking for something new, with innovation driving $176 million in incremental growth last year in the traditional snack category.

As with every category across the FMCG landscape, consumers have myriad options to choose from when it comes to snacking. Understanding who, how, where and why shoppers choose different items for snacking can help uncover new opportunities for distribution, innovation and marketing to ensure success on an already crowded shelf. In addition, knowing how and why your shoppers make their snacking decisions and purchases can help unlock growth opportunities and better challenge the way this category is tackled today.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’February 2020 issue.

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