Are "The Munchies" a Myth?

Fluent unveils the what, when, how, why of college snack attack

Fluent College Snacking

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BOSTON -- What college students crave, when they crave it and why and how they make those purchases are far from the late-night junk food binge scenario many might imagine. The good news is that marketers have time to adjust their plans as the primetime college snacking season is still several weeks away, according to the 1,200-student respondents surveyed by Boston-based College Millennial Consumer (CMC) marketing agency Fluent.

Not only do students report using snack food to replace meals, with 75% doing so and 80% of those doing it once or twice per week, afternoon snacking beats out late night and evening snacking by 3:1.

Whether academics get more intense or heavier clothing hides more ills, a third of respondents (18 to 25 years old) say winter is primetime munching season, far more than those who snack most at other times of the year.

And surprisingly, healthy options were often the first choice among items selected by respondents.

"Many of the results of our snacking survey contradict what most people would imagine to be true about college kids and snacking; the peak of college snacking actually occurs during the day as opposed to late night, and students are making relatively healthy choices. What's more, price matters a lot and students use debit cards even for these very small purchases," said Michael Carey, executive vice president of Fluent. "Knowing that winter is indeed the top snacking season, according to this first-hand insight from students on campus, gives brands an opportunity to hone their marketing efforts to better meet Millennial snacking and buying preferences."

Key findings:

  • While convenience and price are clearly important in driving snack choices, the single most important factors are satisfying a craving (25% of responses) followed by nutritional information (20%).
  • The top go-to snack food of choice is a granola/energy bar (25%), followed by chips (22%), fruit (14%) and baked goods (12%).
  • In terms of beverages, water is tops (62%), while coffee and tea are the primary caffeinated beverages (13%), chosen far more often than soft drinks (7%); juice (5%) and milk (4%) did better overall than sports (3%) and energy drinks (2%).
  • Most students (44%) rely on debit cards to pay for snacks, followed by ID card and cash (21% each). More than 80% report spending less than $5 per day, and 48% spend less than $3.
  • While students choose familiar tastes and brands most often (43%) to meet cravings, the other top influences on their purchases are free samples (35%) and coupons (10%). Peer recommendations come in fourth.
  • The bottom three rated influences on college students' snack purchases are social media/mobile advertising (52%), parent suggestions (17%) and on-campus signage/advertising (15%).

Specializing in "translating brands for the college world," Fluent works with clients who want to understand and engage College Millennial Consumers (CMCs) nationwide, both on- and off-campus. Formerly known as Campus Entertainment, the firm's exclusive affiliation with the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) allows clients insider access to nearly 1,000 colleges and universities allowing access and insights to help sharpen brand relevance through integrated marketing solutions that create brand loyalties. Fluent capabilities include campus activities and programs, CMC insights, digital and social media strategy and activations and experiential programs. Clients have included major brands such as Microsoft, Macy's, PacSun, Skype, Zipcar, Sun Drop, Kotex, Dove and L'Oreal.