Keeping Up With the Gym Bag Snacker

Snacking trends evolving into more day-parts, each with own motivator

Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

Laurie Demeritt

WASHINGTON -- Positive growth projections abound for global confectioners, but dampening the mood is the volatility of sugar prices. Meanwhile, snacking trends are evolving to where individuals have established five snacking day-parts. The five include early morning, between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner, after dinner and late night.

"Consuming confection varieties used to be about celebrating something, reserved for special occasions," said Laurie Demeritt, CEO for Bellevue, Wash.-based consulting firm The Hartman Group, during a mid-May webinar, "U.S. Snacking Trends: Implications & Opportunities for the Sweet & Snacks Industries," sponsored by the National Confectioners Association (NCA).

Now, confection has become part of a snacker's weekly, if not daily, eating regimen.

"Self and personal needs are more important than in years past," said Demeritt. "Confection consumption within the snacking universe has increased 18% [this past year], and the after-dinner day-part occasion is driving that growth. People are indicating they want something different, such as chocolates with ginger and other types of exotic and unique flavors in confection."

As a result, confectioners have an expansive window of opportunity to innovate.

Confectioners are hoping consumers won't in the future be paying more for these offerings: if there's a potential drag on the upward growth of confection it lurks with higher sugar prices, a situation Demeritt was quick to reference at the outset of the one-hour session.

Trade groups such as NCA, the American Bakers Association and the Sweetener Users Association are combining their efforts as part of the Coalition for Sugar Reform. The coalition is seeking legislation to lower price supports for sugar and give greater flexibility to quotas for sugar imports.

Liz Clark, vice president of government affairs for NCA, said recently that "we are not trying to put the [sugar] growers out of business. We are trying to have our own businesses survive."

Candy companies argue federal support for sugar is distorting the market and trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while driving up prices. They plan to lobby for significant policy changes in this year's farm bill.

Behavioral trends
While the coalition makes its case for reform before Congress, confectioners are seeing high demand for such varieties as chocolate, seeds, corn nuts, salty snack, granola bars and yogurt.

"In our research, we looked at snacking and what were the aspirations and behaviors of consumers--all supported by our Compass data base. We wanted to know about consumer behavior over a 24-hour period," said Demeritt. 

For example, in peeling back the snack motivators encompassing the five daypart occasions, Demeritt said that "early morning snacking consists of something people want to eat prior to their cereal or pastry. Maybe it's a bite of something they had for dinner the night before. Between breakfast and lunch is about getting things done. 'I need the energy to get by and don't have the time for elaborate meals.' Afternoon snacking is the functional 'meal bridge' people use to sustain mental focus."

Some additional insights focused on areas such as:

  • Households: The household is becoming democratized--there is equal say in what is bought and consumed. "One statistic we found intriguing was that 70% of households have no kids under 18 living there. This enables us to look at various incremental opportunities. Single households are also increasing, so there are far more people eating alone. We found that 28% of U.S. households are now single," said Demeritt.  

She said 46% of primary shoppers are now men, and men shop differently than woman: "Woman make a physical list of products they plan to buy and stick to it, while men make a mental list." Note to marketers: a mental list by men opens the door for a greater degree of impulse buying opportunities.

  • Societal: There is a transition in society that some see as a problem and others a solution, said Demeritt. The problem is some foods are highly processed, and snacking might lead to such problems as child obesity. A solution is portion control packaging of snack foods. "It's hard for marketers to keep up with the trend changes because culture is moving quickly, and so is snacking," she said.
  • Health: Health can be broken down into physical and emotional health, said Demeritt. Healthy snacking is not just about nutritional content but about the way of eating, such as smaller portions and mini-meals, she said. "People are looking to maintain their blood sugar levels and don't overindulge, but are being more consistent. Maybe they eat as much per day, but it's parceled out more consistently." She said that people have a tendency to rotate indulgent products with non-indulgent through the course of the day.
  • Retail channels: Foodservice providers are going after snacking to a greater level. Demeritt pointed to Taco Bell's creation of the "Fourth Meal" marketing campaign several years ago as an example. Starbucks offering more early morning treats is another example. 

These days, the gym bag has become a dead giveaway to who might be a serious snacker. While people carry a gym bag for workouts, another one in tow might be to load with snacks for day-long sustenance. "There is a moral imperative to never go hungry anymore," she concluded.