Top reason US consumers say they snack is to treat themselves

Despite the propensity to indulge, health plays a key role in the types of snacks consumers eat.

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While consumers may be growing more health-conscious with their food choices, it seems there is still room for life’s little indulgences. New research from Mintel reveals that the top reason Americans say they snack is to treat themselves (50 percent) and more than one quarter (28 percent) agree that taste is more important than health when choosing a snack.

In addition to rewarding one’s self, snacking for self-care continues to be a popular motivator as nearly two in five (37 percent) consumers say they snack to give themselves a break during the day and 24 percent snack to relieve stress. What’s more, one in six (17 percent) Americans snack today in order to control their weight, up from just 10 percent who said they snack to help them lose weight in 2015.

Despite the propensity to indulge, health plays a key role in the types of snacks consumers eat. One third (32 percent) of consumers say the majority of snacks they eat are healthy and over one quarter (28 percent) say they are snacking on healthier foods this year than in 2016. In fact, snacks with health-related claims are among the fastest growing snack launches, with low/no/reduced allergen claims accounting for 46 percent of total new snack product launches in the US in 2017, an increase of 30 percent over 2013, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD).

While the percentage of Americans who say they snack has remained steady in recent years*, snack frequency is on the rise as those who say they snack two to three times per day increased from 50 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2017, while those who report snacking once per day decreased to from 29 percent to 24 percent over the same time period.

Not surprising, younger consumers are leading the snacking revolution as Millennials (aged 23-40) are the most likely to snack four or more times per day (25 percent), compared to just 10 percent of Generation X consumers (aged 41-52) and nine percent of those in the Baby Boomer generation (aged 53-71).

Mintel research indicates that time of day has a strong impact on what consumers turn to for a snack. Snackers appear to be interested in starting the day on a high note, looking for snacks that are healthy (29 percent), light (23 percent) and energizing (23 percent), while sweet (30 percent), comforting (25 percent) and indulgent (22 percent) snacks are more sought after in the evening. When it comes to an afternoon pick-me-up, consumers are most likely to look for snacks that are healthy (26 percent), sweet (23 percent) and energizing (22 percent). This is also the time of day consumers are most likely to reach for a beverage as a snack, including 15 percent of snacking Americans, compared to 12 percent who say the same for the morning and 11 percent in the evening.  

It seems opinions of what constitutes a snack are expanding as nearly two in five (38 percent) consumers agree that anything can be considered a snack and one in seven (14 percent) say they are snacking on ‘less traditional’ snack foods, such as sandwiches and cereal.

Overall, sales of salty snacks have grown 30 percent since 2011, reaching an estimated $11.2 billion in 2016, with growth primarily driven by innovation in the meat snacks and popcorn categories. Sales of meat snacks reached an estimated $3.3 billion in 2016, up 51 percent from 2011, while sales of popcorn increased by 39 percent to reach $2.4 billion.

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