Opinion
Bernie Pacyniak

Snacking… not a guilt trip anymore

Hartman Group report says even the medical community is getting behind snacks these days.

May 30, 2012
KEYWORDS consumers / data / snacks
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Bernie Pacyniak

In case you haven’t heard, it’s OK to snack these days. In fact, it’s OK to snack anywhere, anytime and as often as you like.  Not that this may not seem like an earth-shattering revelation to most, but many of us Baby Boomers can recall that snacking was most often relegated to special occasions, such as parties and events involving friends and family.

Somewhere along the line, the idea that snacking didn’t have to involve event indulging emerged, thus allowing consumption of healthy chomping (i.e. carrot or celery sticks). Today, “snacking is no longer defined as a category, but by eating occasions, and is integral to our everyday routines,” asserts a Hartman Group report on The Future of Snacking.

The Seattle-based consumer-concentric research group explains that the “boundaries between meals and snacks are blurring, creating consumer habits that will persist for generations.” Given that statement, I thought it would make sense to dig a little deeper into the report and webinar presented by these coffee-drinking, rain-soaked trend trackers.

First, there were some impressive statistics to digest. For example, snacking accounts for 48% of all eating in the United States. Secondly, 52% of all adult snacks is an alone occasion. Moreover, alone snacking increases with age (from 46% among Millennials, to 63% among Silent and other generations). And finally, 10% of all snacking occasions occur within an hour of purchase.

Add to those numbers these factoids gleaned from the report: Adults snack just as often as children; men and women snack about the same amount; snacking is an expression of in-the-moment feelings and desires; and consumers are increasingly savoring higher quality snacks.

One of the most fascinating truths I came away from listening to the webinar and then subsequently reviewing the PDF was that snacking itself can be a vehicle to a healthier lifestyle. Thus, snacking, which can often replace actual meals as well as provide a springboard to smaller meals, isn’t viewed by the medical community as taboo.

As Hartman’s authors point out, “Healthy snacks [are] less about product attributes than about ways of eating.” 

As such, consumers can allow for small treat moments throughout the day to avoid over-indulgent binges. They can leverage snacks to allow for smaller meals. They also can rotate their snacking to allow for indulgent (read confections) and non-indulgent (back to carrot and celery sticks) across the day.

Finally, snacking allows consumers to meet emotional needs (read chocolate) as well as physical needs for nutrition (fruits, nuts, energy bars, etc.).

The report also accented another key finding: global or ethnic food trends are here to stay.

 “Consumer interest in global flavor profiles will continue unabated, with no chance of ever subsiding,” the report states.

Moreover, consumers perceive global ingredients as healthier, although that’s not necessarily the case. Add an exotic flavor, such as Furikake (a dried seasoning mixture often made of sesame seeds, seaweed flakes, salt and sugar and used atop rice) to kettle popcorn and you’ve just created a new taste sensation.

They also cited Susan Feniger, the chef of Street restaurant in Los Angeles, as an individual who’s moved toward globally inspired snacks, such as her millet puffs — which involves marshmallows, millet cereal, cumin, fennel and mustard seeds as well as other non-confectionery ingredients such as curry leaves and Reshampati chili powder.

 Another interesting point the Hartman Group report made involved differentiation, a topic bandied about several times by other trend spotters. The examples they gave, however, were truly eye-opening. Consider what the authors called Retro Refined, essentially San Francisco-based 3-Sum Eats’ house-made Twinkies, made, of course, with all-natural ingredients.

Or what about the Modernist trend, such as the Los Angeles-based Fruute Tarts, which offer bite-sized sweet treats in flavors and designs rivaling that of any high-end patisserie. Go to their website, www.fruute.com, to see what I mean.

For confectioners, this appetite for snacking opens up many new doors for both large, midsized and small operators. One just has to think outside the truffle. 

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