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Snacking through the ages

Canadians are snacking more than ever.

When looking at how Canadians eat differently now versus a decade ago, one major trend sticks out: we’re snacking more. In 2000, the average Canadian ate just less than 270 snack meals in a year; in 2010, we noshed more than 300 times. To most of us, snacking’s growth is not a revelation. But to truly understand the trend–and cater to snackers–we need to dig deeper into the data to see who is snacking and how they make their buying decisions.

Let’s start off with the obvious issue: snacking versus healthy eating trends. Over the past decade, the media has featured many stories on how health is becoming more important to Canadians. As the massive boomer cohort enters their “golden years,” Canadians will supposedly shun indulgent snacks in favour of healthier fare.

That’s true to a point, but I can definitely tell you that reports of the demise of indulgence are greatly exaggerated. Yes, Canadians indicate that concern over health and weight factor more into their snack-food choices when they age. Yet the fastest-growing snack food since the middle of the decade belies this impression. The average Canadian is eating more potato chips, and much of this growth can be attributed to adults 55 and older.

That doesn’t mean consumers are ignoring their health. Rather, they’re looking for foods that offer a compromise between health and indulgence. For example, when selecting snack foods considered indulgent, Canadians now often look for a label on the package citing “no trans fats.” Concerns over heart health and an increasing awareness around how trans fats contribute to heart disease are prompting snack food manufacturers to offer products that address this concern.

All this said, the overwhelming motivation behind choosing snack foods remains taste, a consideration that is pervasive among all age groups. No matter how healthy a snack food is, if it doesn’t taste good, it won’t sell. One thing you should be aware of is how snacking changes as we age. Consumers snack most often when they are toddlers, then that drops during the teenage years, followed by a modest upsurge in adulthood, during which time snacking remains relatively constant. In other words, children and teens are likely to experience the most dramatic changes in their snacking behaviour.

The difference among children and teens is not limited to the number of snack meals they eat, but also the kinds of snacks they eat. Children, as might be expected, are less likely to choose their snack foods. As gatekeepers, their parents do that. Only 12% of snack foods that children eight to 12 eat are picked without the influence of a parent or another adult. As such, children are more likely to eat fruit, even though they’re generally not that concerned about their own health. Teens, on the other hand, start to exercise their independence in the foods they choose, turning more to gum and potato chips versus fruit or yogurt.

Don’t underestimate the influence children have on buying snacks, though.
Twenty-eight per cent of snack foods kids eight to 12 consume were purchased at their request by parents. For teens, this number is 23%. Tweens in particular are often more likely to tag along with their parents during grocery shopping trips; they are also more likely to have a say in what’s purchased.

Based on these insights, consider the following ideas to boost sales of your snack products:

 * The No. 1 reason consumers choose a snack food is taste. While you may tout health benefits, be sure to leave room for communication on this crucial front.

 * Nearly two-thirds of snack foods are purchased a day or more before eating. So make sure your entire snacking strategy does not rest solely on impulse purchases.

 * Develop snack options with cross-generational appeal. Young children snack more over the course of a year than any other age group, but most of the foods they snack on will be the same or similar to those they consume as adults. So a long-term retention strategy for snacks can set a foundation for growth.

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