Snacking now more acceptable as health and wellness boom takes flight

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 16th September 2008

Chocolate and strawberries

Snacking is a behaviour that is entrenched in the daily routine of American lives, according to a recent report by The NPD Group, a leading market research company. According to the report, ‘Snacking in America 2008′, after experiencing a period of decline between 1996 and 2002, consumption of snacks has grown steadily and is forecast to grow by 14 per cent by 2017.

“A generation ago most Americans believed they should ‘avoid snacking entirely,’ but today snacking is more acceptable and is clearly the fourth meal of the day,” Harry Balzer, vice president at The NPD Group and author of Eating Patterns in America, advised. “Twenty-one per cent of all meals are snacks.”

The increased acceptability of snacking is indicative of growth of the health and wellness trend, which has led to a wide range of new or updated snacking options that offer consumers a healthier choice.

Although snacking is common among people of all ages, NPD finds that consumption of snack-oriented convenience foods, which are generally eaten between meals, but can be consumed along with meals or as a meal replacement, is growing among kids ages 6 to 12, but declining among adults 18-34 (showing greatest declines) and adults 55 and over. Snacking among younger children ages 2-5 is also declining. By 2017, NPD projects kids under 9 and adults ages 30-39 and 50-59 will account for the largest number of ‘snackers’.

“There is an aging curve that shows between meal eating peaking at a very young age; although children in general remain the heaviest snackers,” noted Arnie Schwartz, who heads up the The NPD Group food and beverage business unit. “On the other end of the age spectrum, between meal eating shows growth after the age of around 60. Because this is where the population is heading, we would expect this behaviour to just outpace population growth.”

When consumers choose to snack is also changing, with evening snacking declining despite still remaining the most prominent time for snack consumption (38.3%). The report established morning snacking has shown the strongest growth (28.5%), and snack foods replace more breakfast meals than any other meals as consumers look for ways to get a quick energy boost before they rush off to work/school. Snacking in the afternoon remained stable, with 29.3% of snacks consumed during this time.

Other findings include:

* Fruit is the most commonly eaten food between meals and consumption is up from five years ago, driven by more ‘at home’ consumption. Cookies, candy/gum, ice cream, and chips round out the top five items consumed between meals.
* Most snack foods are purchased more than a day ahead; a mere one in ten are bought within 30 min of consumption.

“Regardless of age, lifestyle or health, snacking, whether mindful or mindless, is a component of our daily eating patterns. Mum’s warning about spoiling our appetites with snacks is definitely going unheeded,” Mr Balzer concluded.