Are 'Small Meals' the New Snacking?

Snacks, multiple occasions replacing traditional meals

traditional meal versus snacking

BELLEVUE, Wash. --While the tradition of sitting down for three square meals has long been fading, major food companies whose profits depend on how much and how often we eat have found that snacking is replacing meals for a growing number of people, according to a Chicago Tribune report. And those who do eat a few meals a day are snacking more between meals.

"Half the time when people are eating, they're eating snacks," Harvey Hartman, founder and chairman of The Hartman Group, a market research firm based in Bellevue, Wash., told the newspaper. Just 10% of people stick to a breakfast-lunch-dinner meal pattern. And about 6% don't eat any meals at all, instead opting to "graze."

And not only are people snacking more, but they are snacking on healthier snacks, said the report.

"They need to get more out of the snacking moment than what they used to. So mindless munching, or just kind of hollow calories, is really not where consumers are going," Mark Clouse, president of the North America business at Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelez International, which makes snacks including Oreos and Triscuits, told the paper.

"Traditional meals, in the way we know them, are shrinking as a behavior," he said. "The reality is that what a snack used to be, or what a snack is versus a smaller meal, those lines get very blurry."

What is the difference between six small meals a day and continuously snacking?

"I would say the difference is time," Peter Herrnreiter, who eats five or six small meals a day, told the Tribune. He describes those meals as a hybrid between a snack and a meal. Companies are responding to the "small meals" concept. Chicago-based Hillshire Brands Co. is introducing a product line called Hillshire Snacking, with higher-end "small plates" such as Italian dry salami, Gouda cheese and crackers packaged together.

Other than health, the most common reason people choose to snack is that they don't have time to prepare meals.

People often buy snacks to eat immediately, when they are typically not as focused on price, the report said. More than 80% of snack decisions are made where people buy their food.

Cereal-maker Kellogg said there are as many as four occasions when people eat between waking up and having lunch. Michael Allen, president of the U.S. Morning Foods division at Kellogg Co., said that on average, people eat about 1.7 times and consume an average of 3.4 items in the morning. Someone might have a "pre-breakfast" cup of coffee or tea, or eat while sitting or getting ready for work or school. That person might then grab something in transit and eat it then or later, or have a midmorning snack at work or school.

Click here to view the full Tribune report.