Couple eating muesli bar hiking. Happy people enjoying granola cereal bars living healthy active lifestyle in mountain nature. Woman and man hiker sitting laughing during hike.

In a white paper titled “Snacking Solutions: Understanding the Modern Snack-Food Consumer,” Cargill surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers to determine why and how they choose and consume different types of snacks. The results revealed how prevalent snacking is — only 3% of Americans said they never snack — and how snack manufacturers can satisfy today’s consumers.  

Why modern consumers love snacking

Busy lives, individualized eating, and preferences for quick food options have transformed snacking from a guilty pleasure to an everyday part of the American diet. More than half of American consumers have already made snacking a daily habit, with roughly 25% snacking multiple times a day. And 37% regularly snack in place of one of the three standard mealtimes.  

Taste is a priority for adult consumers, and there are four primary reasons they’ll reach for a snack: 

  1. To respond to a craving (77% of men and 78% of women)
  2. To treat themselves (72% of men and 69% of women)
  3. To satisfy hunger (70% of both men and women)
  4. To reward themselves (59% of men and 51% of women) 

Snacks are a convenient way for consumers to recharge during the day, enjoy bite-sized indulgences, and try new foods and flavors. So it’s no surprise this is a growing opportunity area for manufacturers.

Snack bars: Convenience with health benefits

For adults and children alike, snack bars are the go-to snack choice, especially to satisfy hunger between meals. Cargill found that 25% of consumers eat snack bars daily, and 44% eat them twice a week. The average American consumes snack bars 11 times a month. 

When selecting snack bars for themselves, adults consider protein to be the most important quality — 72% rated “high in protein” as the top attribute and 68% consider protein content important. Fiber content, whole grain content, and natural claims also made the top five list.  

These same attributes come into play when parents pick out snack bars for their children. Two out of three parents are more likely to buy products that offer their kids whole grain and fiber. Natural products and protein content were almost equally important.

GMO ingredients and high fructose corn syrup were the two things consumers most wanted to avoid in their snack bars, for both themselves and their children. It’s worth noting that 13% of adults were likely to avoid sugar when choosing snack bars for themselves, but only 2% considered sugar an important factor when selecting snack bars for their kids. 

Salty snacks: Hold the salt

Consumers eat salty snacks almost as frequently as snack bars, usually between lunch and dinner. 

Consumers rated natural ingredient content as the most important product attribute in salty snacks, for both adults and children. Low sodium and high protein were also important for adult snacks, while protein content and whole grains were slightly less important than natural claims when purchasing products for children. 

Adults said they’d rather avoid high fructose corn syrup in their own salty snacks above all other attributes, while parents most wanted to avoid caffeine in their children’s snacks. 

Candy and baked goods: A naturally sweet satisfaction 

Americans said they most commonly consume candy and sweet baked goods as after-dinner desserts. Here, too, natural was best — in both candy and baked goods categories, consumers placed the most value on natural products and those that contained natural sweeteners. Other important attributes were whole grain, protein, and fiber. 

GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners were the top three things consumers wanted to avoid when purchasing sweets for themselves or their children. 

Market opportunities

Snacking has become so popular that the product possibilities are close to endless. Anything can be a snack, and consumers are increasingly open to trying new and creative products. 

Cargill named three snacking trends to keep in mind when formulating new products:

  • Functionality: Surveyed consumers indicated a preference for snacks with protein and fiber content, but there are new flavor and health-boosting ingredients on the rise — probiotics, turmeric, CBD, matcha, and pumpkin seed are a few worth watching. 
  • Emotional support: While consumers are still interested in products that promote physical health, they may also soon be choosing snacks based on what mental health benefits they offer. 
  • Personalization: As consumers learn more about their individual health, nutritional needs, and consumption preferences, they’ll seek out snacks that seem like they were made just for them. 

For more information and details on this study, download Cargill’s full white paper.

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