Canadian Vending

Features Consumer Behaviour Trends
Snack time

Round-the-clock grazing, breakfast food variety and other trends that should command our attention

October 5, 2015
By Michelle Brisebois

Sales at breakfast, including those in the growth area of nutritional bars, are increasing as more people recognize it’s important to eat in the morning. Photo: Fotolia

Snacking is changing its image.

The practice is primarily defined as food and or drink consumed between meals. You know, meals . . . those three square things we eat at regular times of the day surrounded by family members sharing humorous anecdotes?  

Right. Snacking has evolved from something we were discouraged from doing because it might “ruin our supper” to often an outright replacement for supper.  

Snacking didn’t just ruin supper – it exterminated it. This shift creates a profound effect on the types of snacks and times of snacks consumers desire. According to Euromonitor, snack sales represent 40 per cent of the $370-billion U.S. packaged food market and are projected to grow by two per cent annually through 2019.   


With this opportunity in mind, let’s look at the top 10 trends in snacking.

 1  Savoury snacks  have appeal
Charcuterie, hummus and cheese are all popular choices for snacking. Hummus, a Middle Eastern delicacy, was obscure a few years ago but is now available in 20 per cent of American homes. Canadians eat 26 pounds of cheese per person per year, the National Post reported in 2014.

 2  Snacking becomes grazing
When snacks are consumed in addition to a meal it’s a bad thing; when they’re consumed instead of a meal, it’s “grazing.” In 2009, 24 per cent of all meals in Canada were snack meals, up from 22 per cent in 2000, The NPD Group reported. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 44 often substitute snacks for meals, according to Technomic. Nielsen research reports that baby boomers are also grazing instead of having their three square meals. This behaviour is driven by a desire for a healthier lifestyle and by fine dining trends towards tasting menus and small plates. The NPD Group predicts that snack foods consumed as meals will grow by five per cent over the next five years.

 3  Millennials dominate
People under the age of 35 have grown up leading much busier lives than their predecessors. Their parents had them in a variety of activities and they very likely attended after-school day care as children. This life-on-the-fly pace has meant snacking became a way of bridging meals and it’s a behaviour they’ve continued into adulthood. Millennials eat more snacks than any other group, according to analysis by Euromonitor.  They consume 3.05 snacks per day versus 1.53 per day by baby boomers. Children, ages 6 through12, eat 4.1 snack-oriented convenience foods daily in and out of school. The NPD’s SnackTrack reports that “90 per cent of school snacks are brought from home.” Busy parents rely more on packaged snack foods for lunch pails and the homemade sandwich is in decline.

 4  Healthy snacks surge
If snacks are in fact replacing meals, it stands to reason healthier choices will continue to be in demand. “Snacks with all natural ingredients are rated very important by 45 per cent of global respondents and moderately important by 32 per cent – the highest percentages out of the 20 health attributes included in the study,” says Nielsen research released in 2014. While many consumers seek products that have less sodium and are perceived as healthier, taste is still most important. Sales of potato chips are flat (claiming less than one per cent growth in 2010) due to the high fat and salt content, but manufacturers have launched baked products to address these concerns.   

5  Breakfast is a democracy
Breakfast can include all kinds of foods – it’s not just about cereal and eggs anymore. In fact, Technomic reports that 20 per cent of the cookies and apple pies sold by McDonald’s are sold at breakfast. Sales in this day part also are increasing as more people recognize it’s important to eat in the morning. Ready-to-eat cereal sales have fallen four per cent. Breakfast bar sales are flat in dollar sales and down 2.8 per cent in volume sales. Bar growth was in nutritional bars, which grew in sales by volume by 8.7 per cent, according to research by IRI.

6  Fruits and veggies are favourites
Fresh fruit and vegetables are very popular snacking items and they’re finding new life as savoury snacks. Nielsen reports that fresh fruit (18 per cent) is the most popular choice when given 47 different snacking options. Many vegetables are being processed to mimic potato chips in a healthier way, among them Snapea Crisps, manufactured by Harvest Snaps and launched in 2013.  

7  Exotic and ethnic excite
Those demanding ethnic snacks represent 31 per cent of consumers, says Canadian Grocer. Immigration to Canada has created a culinary cultural mosaic. This was reflected by the Canadian launch in 2013 of Kurkure by Pepsico’s India division. Sales of the corn puffs are brisk, especially in Toronto and Vancouver where one quarter of the population is of Asian or South Asian descent, Euromonitor’s “Canadian Landscape 2014” report indicates.

8  Afternoon snacking grows
According to NPD’s SnackTrack reports, afternoon is the most common time of day for snacking (as reported by 34 per cent) followed by morning (27.6 per cent) and evening (30.6 per cent). Children tend to eat snack foods at lunch, while those aged 35 years and older have a greater propensity to snack in the evening.

9  Protein wields power
Eating protein keeps the blood sugar stable and gives a sense of satiety, according to the NPD research. Twenty-four per cent of adults look for protein on nutrition labels and 50 per cent of adults say the best source of protein is animal protein. Another advantage of meat snacks is that they are typically lower in fat.  

10  Size matters
As manufacturers of sweet snack foods have seen their market share drop, they’ve adapted by decreasing portion sizes. Healthy eating doesn’t mean forgoing a treat, the snack stays a small indulgence if it’s bite-sized. Cadbury’s is launching a tub of bite-sized brownies to capture this growing segment.

All signs point to snacks becoming supper 2.0 – a trend that could provide vending operators with opportunities to increase sales.