Implications for Fresh Produce in Consumer Snacking Research

by Carol M. Bareuther

Snack consumption will continue to grow. This is the Number One takeaway message from the Snacking Occasion, Consumer Trend Report, published in 2016 by Chicago-based Technomic Inc. Evidence for this comes from a recent rapid uptick of consumers snacking daily, from 76 percent in 2014 to 83 percent in 2016. Busier lifestyles, greater availability of snack foods away from home and the increasing role snacks now play in everyday life are driving factors, according to the report. While produce as snacks at retail and foodservice weren’t specifically measured, there are four important findings in the research that showcase sales opportunities for fresh fruits and vegetables.

First, innovative healthful snacks will flourish. This comes on the heels of a shift in consumer perception from snacks as the downfall of a healthy diet to now an essential component of such. This indicates an opportunity to drive sales through more interesting, innovative and nutritious snack choices.

“Twenty-eight percent of consumers intend on eating healthier snacks in the next 12 months, and these consumers are increasingly purchasing snacks from prepared foods areas,” says Maia Chang, Technomic’s senior research analyst for consumer insights. “Additionally, we saw that 42 percent of consumers would purchase healthy snacks more often if there were unique flavorings available. So, using fresh produce as an example, these could be items like chili-lime seasoned baby carrots, pomegranate-flavored smoothies, and apples with caramel dip.”

However, the report does maintain that an SKU or menu mix of indulgent and healthful items is the key to driving overall traffic.

Consumer-oriented findings in this report were based on the responses of 1,500 Americans who took part in an online survey. The participants were nationally representative regarding age, gender, and ethnicity. However, to qualify, consumers had to be snackers. When researchers asked how subjects defined a snack (and respondents could choose more than one definition), 71 percent answered that snacks were any item eaten during non-traditional meal hours, while 48 percent defined snacks as items traditionally sold as snacks.

A second key point in the report is that the definition of snacks will continue to broaden. For example, 41 percent of respondents considered a salad a snack. Plus, consumers are now considering a wider variety of foods to be snacks. This is due in part to the ever-increasing range of new products being developed and marketed to meet between-meal needs. This finding offers operators an opportunity to stock an ever-widening array of items in destination snack cases at retail, or create new snack sections on foodservice menus.“This can mean an opportunity to promote produce that isn’t traditionally considered a snack item. To this point, 62 percent of consumers said they would buy fresh fruits for snacks, and 52 percent said would buy cheese or string cheese for snacks. These items, as well as pre-cut fruit, are examples of how foodservice operators and retailers can meet consumers’ snack needs,” says Chang.

Thirdly, the Technomic report revealed that varied snack portion sizes will be important. This is especially true for younger consumers, 40 percent of whom eat snacks away from home, compared to 25 percent of the population overall.

“Varied or tiered portion sizes will be increasingly crucial because consumers more often say that it’s important that snacks aren’t too large,” says Chang.

The implication of this is that retail and foodservice operators could consider offering more bundled snack options.

Finally, the report reveals that breakfast snacks will gain ground following on the coattails of the major industry trend of the all-day breakfast. This is because breakfast foods are of relatively smaller portion size and lower price point than other meals.

“As for produce, a look through our MenuMonitor tool shows that some QSR chains have already started adding avocado and kale to their breakfast items, especially hand-held offerings,” says Chang.

To avoid breakfast fare’s cannibalization of sales from other dayparts, the Technomic report suggests that operators consider positioning breakfast items as nutritious snacks that can tide consumers over until their next meal.

In addition to the online consumer survey, results of this report also came from information contained in Technomic’s Digital Resource Library, Knowledge Center databases.