Fresh Fruit Is The Apple Of The Snack Consumer’s Eye

By Kathy Ross, Category Specialist, NPD Group

Fresh fruit is not only the top snack food consumed in America, it is also one of the fastest growing, according to new snacking research from The NPD Group.  NPD’s recently released Snacking in America, which examines long-term attitudes and behaviors about snacking as well as snack selection drivers, reports that annual eatings per capita of fresh fruit as a snack have increased by six percentage points since 2003. Growing concerns about health and eating right are certainly contributors to the increasing popularity of fruit as a snack, but NPD’s research shows that fruit has been the top snack choice in this country for the past decade.

One of the reasons that fruit holds the top snack position is that it’s eaten throughout the day, resulting in its inclusion in more snack occasions than other snack foods.  Over a two-year period ending March 2012, fruit was consumed as a snack in nine more snack occasions than chocolate, the next top snack food, and 25 more occasions than potato chips, the third most popular snack food.

Availability is certainly another reason why fruit leads the pack in snacks. Snack foods are never too far away from us, and this is especially true for fresh fruit. Eighty-five percent of households currently have fresh fruit on hand, which compares to 51 percent of households that have cookies available, according to NPD’s most recent Kitchen Audit, a survey conducted to determine what food ingredients, appliances, and utensils U.S. households have on hand. Fruit is, however, outranked by salty snacks, which are currently on hand in 91 percent of U.S. households. Over half of American pantries currently have on hand just about every top snack food eaten in-home today. This is especially true in households with children.

Having fruit on hand makes sense, as it appears to be a favorite snack among all ages. Consumers 65 and older eat the most fruit, followed by children under 12. Teens, ages 13 to 17, eat the least amount of fruit, but their consumption increases as they get older. Females eat more fresh fruit than males, but not that much more. Another aspect of the fruit consumer, other than their age, is the type of snackers they are. Healthier snack consumers snack more often between meals and eat a wider variety of healthy snacks, and fruit is the top go-to snack for these consumers.

Its broad appeal among consumers of every age and gender would account for fruit as a planned, rather than impulse, snack purchase. Impulse purchasing, those snacks purchased within 30 minutes of consumption, is strongest among ready-to-eat sweet baked goods, candy, and traditional salty snacks, whereas the majority of fruit purchases are planned more than one day in advance of eating.

Although fruit is the top snack overall, its popularity wanes a bit as the day progresses. Fresh fruit holds a strong lead as a morning snack, ties as the top afternoon snack, and drops to fifth place as a late night snack when indulgent, sweet-and-salty snacks grab more attention from snackers. Consumers are motivated by different needs for snacks as the day progresses. Portability, availability, and health seem to drive morning snack selections; afternoon choices look to be more satiating, while snack-oriented foods consumed in the evening are more about flavor and taste sensations.

In addition to time-of-day, snack food selections are often based on the type of activity the consumer is engaged in at the time of the snack occasion. The portability of candy, baked goods, and bars drive consumption of these items when consumers are on the go and may contribute to their likelihood of being consumed in a car. Fresh fruit is a more popular snack choice for leisure and meal-related activities than work/school, social, or on-the-go activities.

Taking the who, what, when, and where of fresh fruit consumption into account, the point to be made is that fresh fruit is a top-of-mind snack with most consumers. Since 2002, the average American is consuming an additional 15 snack meals per year, with most of the snacking growth occurring in the morning, when a fruit is the No. 1 snack choice.

Among the opportunities, this trend presents to producers and produce retailers are to market and merchandise around the morning snack occasions, promote fruit for the activities during which it is most likely to be eaten, and package and promote it for on-the-go activities when it’s least likely to be consumed.

Bottom line: fresh fruit is a growing snack food that is ripe for the picking.