Snacks & Candy

Opinion: Munchies That Mobilize the Millennial Shopper

3 lessons to learn about young snackers

CHICAGO -- It has been a crazy afternoon of soccer and baseball games. It is hot, and the kids are tired. Then, from the back seat, comes the ever-so-typical request: “I’m hungry. Can we get a snack on the way home?” Everyone is hungry. And so it begins—the search for a snack that will hit the spot and get everyone home without a meltdown.

This is the perfect scenario for a convenience-store trip. After all, convenience stores specialize in quick-trip and immediate-consumption occasions. Winning in snacks, a sector that accounts for an estimated 15% of channel purchases and 18% of growth, is important. And keying in on the needs of millennials—about 79.4 million strong with buying power that will top $240 billion in the next few years—is absolutely critical. Convenience stores, beware: Millennials have influence, and they are changing the face of snacking.

Indulgence, long convenience stores’ sweet spot, is changing. Stores that don’t keep pace will lose the race. Those that move quickly and smartly, though, have great opportunity.

IRI’s 2017 New Product Pacesetters, an industry-recognized assessment of new-launch success, illustrates the shift that is underway. Across key c-store categories, such as salty snacks, chocolate candy and natural cheese, there are important lessons to be learned.

1. Experiences sell.

Millennials really are the “me” generation. They value individuality, and they want life to be exciting. More than one-third of millennials want snacks with gourmet or exotic flavors and qualities, and half want snack options that will add excitement to their daily diets. They want snacks that help them celebrate that individuality: Exotic flavors, fresh and local options as well as products that give back to important causes are just some examples.

2. Healthier-for-you is in, but pure indulgence is not dead.

Forty percent of millennials say they eat healthy half the time and eat whatever they want the rest of the time. Another 23% say they eat whatever they want whenever they want it. So yes, c-store operators can and should continue to hone their healthier-for-you assortment, but the core—the quick indulgences—must remain strong and in tune with the growing millennial marketplace.

3. On-the-go will continue to grow.

Millennials move at light speed. They are at a life stage in which they are starting new careers and raising young children. They are also just generally really busy. Six out of 10 millennials want snacks that can be eaten on the go—up 16 points in just one year. Foods that allow millennials to fuel up without slowing down are really feeling the momentum. This is great news for a channel that specializes in grab-and-go options. And remember that checkout displays have a huge influence on snack choices.

Related: Balancing the Snack Needs of Young Parents

There is a lot written about the blurring taking place in consumer packaged goods today. It is seen across categories and across channels. There is a fast and furious blurring between healthier and more indulgent snack solutions, and millennials are really driving this trend. By investing in personalization, retailers will be able to answer key questions, such as “Do millennials and Gen Zers prefer different flavors or forms compared to baby boomers?” and “How do attitudes and behaviors around private label differ across my core shoppers?”

With these key insights, retailers can optimize in-store and marketing programs to really win with millennial snackers.

Susan Viamari is vice president of thought leadership for Chicago-based IRI. Reach her at

Photography courtesy of

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