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Redefining the mini-meal

Shoppers looking beyond classic snacks like chips and cookies

Amid tepid grocery growth, snacks are turning out to be a bright spot.

Data from Nielsen MarketTrack shows dollar sales of snacks in Canada rose 4% for the 52 weeks to June 28, trumping overall consumer packages goods sales growth of 1.4%.

Bestselling snacks are still chips and cookies, but many Canadians are reaching beyond these old favourites for a quick nibble, according to new consumer research by Nielsen.

Sixty-three per cent of Canadians who took part in the survey said they had snacked on cheese, chocolate or fresh fruit in the last 30 days, 53% snacked on bread, 51% yogurt and 50% vegetables.

Another 44% snacked on peanut butter and 41% cereal.

READ: Five trends in kids’ snacking

“Consumers are snacking way beyond the snack aisle today,” Carman Allison, vice-president of consumer insights at Nielsen in Toronto said.

Allison told Canadian Grocer research shows an opportunity for snack sales that now stretches across many more aisles of the supermarket.

“We have to look at snacking differently,” he noted. “As a retailer, how can you be a snack destination?”

According to Nielsen Homescan data, grocery stores were the top destination for snacks in Canada, with 64.1% market share to the 52 weeks to June 28. That’s down 5.9 percentage point drop from 2009.

Channels that have increased their snack market share include warehouse stores, up 2.6 percentage points to 12.8% market share and mass merchandisers, up 1.7 percentage points to 12.8%.

So what are consumers looking for in snacks today? According to Nielsen, health is a factor.

READ: It’s a new world for ethnic snacks

Its survey found that 62% of Canadians snack for nutrition and that the most popular health attribute of snacks is high fibre, identified by 65% of respondents.

Of course, taste and rumbling tummies still drive nibbling. Eight-six per cent of Canadians snack for enjoyment and 81% do so to satisfy a craving.

Allison noted that as consumers age they tend to look for healthier snacks. Younger consumers, under 35, meanwhile, are substituting breakfast and lunch with snacks.

The findings are part of a new global report, “Snack Attack: What Consumers are Reaching for Around the World.”

The report, which included an online survey of more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, found snack food growth of 2% worldwide in the last year (to the end of March) to US$374 billion.

North America and Europe, are the biggest snack markets–worth $124 billion and $167 billion, respectively–but the fastest growing snack markets are in developing regions.

READ: The future of back-to-school snacking

Snack sales in Latin America are up 9% to $30 billion, the Middle East and Africa are up 5% to $7 billion and the Asia-Pacific region is up 4% to 46 billion.

As one might expect, snack preferences vary around the world. For instance, in North America, salty snacks comprise a fifth of all snack sales, while in Latin America cookies and snack cakes make up one quarter of all sales.

By far the biggest snack category in Europe, meanwhile, is sugary sweets such as chocolate, hard candy and gum.

But perhaps the most important snacks to watch are those with the fastest sales growth, Susan Dunn, Nielsen’s EVP of global professional services, noted in the report.

For instance, meat snacks, including jerky, are up 15% in North America.

Dunn noted that “non-sugary snacks closely aligned with meal replacement food are showing strong growth, which signals a shift in a consumer mindset to one focused on health."

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