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4 Takeaways from Nielsen's Snack Study

The Nielsen Company recently published results of a study of snacking behavior in America, learning more about what goes into the $33 billion a year snack industry in the US, what consumers are buying, and why.

Snacking is as popular a pastime as it has ever been in America.

From 2013 through 2016, every individual snack category saw an increase in sales. The strongest absolute dollar growth was in individual bars (like protein bars or cereal bars). Jerky snacks and individual cookies and crackers were the other items in the top three snack categories. Dairy snacks accounted for nearly 22 percent of individual snacking dollars, with salty snacks, cookies and crackers, jerky, and produce also showing healthy growth. Here are four takeaways for snack brands from the Nielsen Snack Study.

1. Health Claims on Snack Packaging Attract Consumer Attention

Food packaging designs that call attention to “healthful” claims on the label boost sales across both traditional and healthy snack categories. As just one example, food packaging designs advertising non-GMO ingredients experienced a robust 18.2 percent increase in dollar sales for each one of the past five years. 

Other label features that lead to increased sales include those that call attention to lack of artificial colors and flavors, and those touting reduced sugar or sugar-free properties. It is important to note that even in indulgent snack categories like salty snacks, the presence of healthful claims on packaging tends to boost sales compared to overall average snack sales.

2. Adding New Flavor Choices Can Reignite Interest in a Snack

Consumers are more open to new tastes and flavors than they once were, and this appears to be particularly true for Millennials. Therefore, manufacturers who want to reignite interest in their established snack lines may want to consider introducing new and innovative flavors. While classic flavors like original salted potato chips are perennially popular, unusual flavors are making inroads with the American snacking public. For example, White Truffle/Sea Salt, Aged Cheddar Horseradish, and Dill Pickle flavored chips have become popular in 2017, and by all indications, consumers will remain open to new flavor experiences in 2018.

People are more willing than ever to try new and unusual salty snack flavors.

3. On-the-Go Convenience Is Essential

The convenience of consuming snack foods is increasingly important in the US. Are snacks easy to open and portable? Are food packaging designs geared toward car cupholders available? Can parents easily hand out individual snack packs to their kids in the car? Portability issues are behind some of the increase in popularity of individual pieces of fruit as well as single-serve bar snacks, such as granola bars and candy bars. In short, it would appear that even the most outstanding new flavors will not gain much traction with consumers unless they are convenient to consume. Extras like resealable packages and packages that stand up by themselves are other perks that consumers on the go appreciate.

4. People Are Eating Snack Foods as Part of Meals

Finally, snack foods are increasingly making their way into regular mealtimes. Today, nearly one-quarter of snacking is done during breakfast, lunch, or dinner, an increase over 21 percent from five years ago. Foods like yogurt and fresh fruit are foods traditionally considered as snacks that have become part of main meals, and healthy snacks have an edge when it comes to making it onto the dinner table. Positioning individual snack products (particularly healthy ones, like yogurt) as appropriate components of meals may help boost sales as this trend progresses. 

The United States is a nation of snackers, with many snacks consumed during transit and away from home. American snackers are not as satisfied with traditional flavors and they crave novelty. They also look for food packaging designs that signal healthful steps taken by snack companies, such as a lack of artificial flavors and colors or use of non-GMO ingredients. While snacks, in general, are enjoying growth, the snacks that strive to meet the evolving desires of the American public are poised to enjoy even greater growth in the years ahead.

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