How the rise of snacking is redefining meals
The snack is nibbling away at how the world eats, drinks and lives. From a candy bar to a piece of fruit to a granola bar — snacking now permeates the globe as it increasingly replaces breakfast, lunch and dinner in households from Houston to Hanoi - the conclusion of an exhaustive study released yesterday by consumer research giant Nielsen.
Its Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking polled online more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries between mid-February and mid-March of 2014. Snacking, the study estimates, has evolved into a $374-billion global industry — and is growing about 2% annually, which is a considerable amount in a shaky, global economy.
While Europe ($167bn) and North America ($124bn) make up the majority of worldwide snack sales, annual snack sales are growing faster in the largely developing regions. Asia-Pacific ($46bn) and Latin America ($30bn) increased 4% and 9%, respectively, while sales in the Middle East/Africa ($7bn) grew 5%.
The impact of the snacking boom will be huge, affecting the way companies make, market and serve food, and it will influence the kinds of food products that food makers concoct going forward, the study concludes.
"Snacking connects consumers globally," said James Russo, senior vice president at Nielsen. Consider: 91% of consumers polled say they snack at least once a day. And 21% are snacking three to four times daily — the majority being women.
But snacking is no longer just about satisfying a sweet tooth or hunger pang between meals, but increasingly about substituting them for the meals themselves.
"How we snack as a society is changing," said Russo. "Snacks are increasingly meal replacements."
Some 45% of consumers, globally, says the use snacks as meal replacements. Roughly 52% same they sometimes replace breakfast with a snack; 43% replace lunch with a snack and 40% replace dinner with one.
Breakfast was the most common meal to be replaced with a snack. Some 55% of Asians surveyed say they replace breakfast with a snack — followed by 49% of North Americans and 44% of Europeans.
"Any way you slice it, these are big numbers," said Russo. "Consumers are re-defining how we eat around meals. If I'm a big food company, I have to think about how to make, market or re-purpose products to a consumer who wants to eat on the go, and is using snacks as meals."
The snack opportunity
The Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking polled more than 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries to identify which snacks are most popular around the world and which health, taste and texture attributes are most important in the selection criteria.
"The competitive landscape in the snacking industry is fierce," said Susan Dunn, executive vice president, Global Professional Services, Nielsen. "Demand is driven primarily by taste and health considerations and consumers are not willing to compromise on either. The right balance is ultimately decided by the consumer at the point of purchase. Understanding the 'why before the buy' provides the foresight necessary to deliver the right product to the right consumer at the right time."
Confections: Including sugary sweets, such as chocolate, hard candy and gum—these comprise the biggest sales contribution to the overall snack category in Europe ($46.5bn) and the Middle East/Africa ($1.9bn). Salty snacks contribute more than one-fifth of snack sales in North America ($27.7bn), refrigerated snacks comprise almost one-third of snacks in Asia-Pacific ($13.7bn), and cookies and snack cakes make up more than one-fourth of total snacks in Latin America ($8.6bn).
What are the fastest-growing snack categories? According to Nielsen retail sales information, sales of savoury snacks, which include crackers, rice cakes and pita chips, increased 21% in the last year in Latin America. Meat snacks, which include jerky and dried meat, grew 25% in the Middle East/Africa and 15% in North America. Refrigerated snacks, which include yoghurt, cheese snacks and pudding, rose 6.4% in Asia-Pacific, while dips and spreads, which include salsa and hummus, increased 6.8% in Europe.
"Non-sugary snacks closely aligned with meal-replacement foods are showing strong growth, which signals a shift in a consumer mindset to one focused on health," said Dunn. "While conventional cookies, cakes and confections categories still hold the majority of snack sales, more innovation in the healthy snacking and portable food space is necessary to adjust to this changing dynamic.
"There is a perception that snacks are intended more for in-between meals than for actual meal replacements," added Dunn. "But busy, on-the-go lifestyles often dictate a need for quick meals, and many opt for fast food options that can be high in calories and low in health benefits. There is a massive untapped opportunity to gain market share in the nutritious, portable and easy-to-eat meal alternative market that snack manufacturers could fill."
Fresh fruit and chocolate are favourites
According to Nielsen's survey, global respondents say that fresh fruit (18%) is the one snack they would choose above all others from a list of 47 different snacking options, followed by chocolate (15%). Both snack categories scored more than double or triple the responses for yoghurt (6%), bread/sandwiches (6%), cheese (5%), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (5%), vegetables (5%) and ice cream/gelato (4%).
Still, as the low percentages suggest, consumers' preferences vary widely when it comes to picking a favourite.
Over a span of 30 days, however, global respondents say they ate a wide variety of snacks, including chocolate (64%), fresh fruit (62%), vegetables (52%), cookies/biscuits (51%), bread/sandwich (50%) and yogurt (50%). More than four in 10 respondents consumed cheese (46%), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (44%) and nuts/seeds (41%). One-third chewed gum (33%) and devoured ice cream/gelato (33%), while about one-fourth munched on popcorn (29%), crackers/crisp breads (28%) and cereal (27%). Softer offerings like dumplings (26%) and instant noodles (26%) were also popular with a quarter of global respondents.
Taste preferences for snack options are noticeably different around the world. Exceeding the global averages, large percentages of respondents snack on vegetables in Asia-Pacific (57%), cheese in Europe (58%),ice cream/gelato in Latin America (63%) and potato chips/tortilla chips in North America (63%).
"In the dichotomy of snacking, consumers want healthy, but yet indulgent options are still going strong," said Dunn. "A better understanding of consumer demand and the need states that drive demographic profile preferences will help manufacturers crack the code on the right portfolio balance between indulgence and healthy. It will also increase the odds of success in this ultra-competitive landscape."
Snacking with a conscience
Nielsen's study shows that more respondents around the world care about the absence of ingredients than the addition of them. "Consumers want snacks to stick to the basics," said Dunn.
Snacks with all natural ingredients are rated very important by 45%of global respondents and moderately important by 32%—the highest percentages out of the 20 health attributes included in the study. The absence of artificial coloors (44%), GMOs (43%) and artificial flavours (42%) are also rated very important. Caffeine-free (23%) and gluten-free (19%) snacks are very important for about one-fourth and one-fifth of global respondents, respectively.
Less is more for roughly one-third of global respondents who think it's very important that snacks be low in sugar (34%), salt (34%), fat (32%) and calories (30%). One-fourth of those surveyed want snacks that have either low or no carbohydrates. Conversely, roughly one-third are looking for beneficial ingredients, rating fibre (37%), protein (31%) and whole grains (29%) as very important attributes in the snacks they eat.
Environmentally-conscious consumers believe it is very important that snacks include ingredients that are sourced sustainably (35%), are organic (34%) and use local herbs (25%).
Meanwhile, portion control is very important for just over one-fourth of global respondents (27%).
About the Nielsen Global Survey
The Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking was conducted between Feb. 17 and March 7, 2014, and polled more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on its Internet users and is weighted to be representative of Internet consumers. It has a margin of error of ±0.6 %. This Nielsen survey is based only on the behaviour of respondents with online access. Internet penetration rates vary by country.