Snacking at a desk

The global snacking industry generated $374 billion in annual sales in the year ending March 2014, according to Nielsen sales figures — and it’s growing. 

To get a pulse on what is driving snacking preferences around the world, we polled more than 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries and uncovered two trends that will help drive continued growth in the snack industry: snacks as meal replacements and consumption profile preferences. 

Susan Dunn Nielsen

Susan Dunn, executive v.p., professional services, Nielsen

Is it a snack or a meal?

Snacks are no longer just in-between meal treats — for many, they are the meal. Half of American respondents said they often or sometimes eat a snack as a replacement for breakfast, 52 percent for lunch and 41 percent for dinner.

The attributes Americans consider most important when choosing a snack align with a growing need to satisfy busy, on-the-go lifestyles with healthy options. For example, nearly two-thirds of American respondents said it is very or moderately important that snacks have natural flavors (65 percent) and high fiber (63 percent), and more than half (59 percent) want to avoid snacks with high fructose corn syrup.

Offering snacks that are nutritious, portable and convenient will do well to serve as meal replacement options. In the dichotomy of snacking, however, consumers want healthy choices, but indulgent options are still going strong.

An understanding of consumer demand and the need strategies that drive demographic profile preferences will help crack the code on the right balance between what consumers want and need.

Understanding the three types of snackers

All snackers can be grouped into three types of consumers — planner, purposeful and spontaneous.

Planners have a few snacks they stick with, they tend to buy snacks in the store aisle and they know what they want when they get to the store.

Purposeful snackers prefer snacks with sustainably sourced ingredients, will pay extra for Fair Trade snacks and buy name-brand snacks.

And spontaneous snackers like to try new snacks, buy a variety of snacks, eat snacks as soon as they buy them and tend to buy snacks at the check-out counter. 

To reach “planners,” manufacturers need to get to them before they hit the store. They need to leverage their website to promote specials and use social media to drive trial. These snackers know what they want and head straight to the appropriate aisle when they arrive at the store. 

On the other end of the spectrum, attractive in-store signage and sampling will appeal to spontaneous snackers. They are the first to try a new product and are drawn to messaging for “new” and “innovative” snacks. As these snackers like to buy impulsively at the check-out counter, ensure products are within hands’ reach and are offered in a pack size to encourage trial and immediate consumption.

To reach purposeful snackers, manufacturers should tailor their messages to emphasize unique product attributes, such as sustainability, Fair Trade or high fiber. These snackers are brand loyal and are willing to pay extra for snacks that have qualities that are important to them. But they are also deal sensitive, so consider in-store promotional activities.

Far from a frivolous indulgence, snacking is serious business. Understanding the global snacking consumer can go a long way toward ensuring sweet success.

The full global snacking report can viewed on the Nielsen website.