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Changing Food Culture Gives Rise To New Opportunities with Snacks

Everyone who works in the food industry knows this is a time of great change. Shifts in consumer beliefs and values around food are changing not only the way people eat but also the role food plays in their lives. Some of the best thinking I’ve seen on these cultural changes comes from the Hartman Group, a recognized thought leader on food industry trends. Several broad, cultural factors are driving changes in food, and it takes a peek into history to understand them fully.

As the United States emerged from World War II, Americans were ready to embrace the normalcy of a stable life following the tumultuous war years. People sought reliability and predictability in the products they purchased. In this context, quality meant consistency–the kind of consistency that came from packaged food—which helped assure consumers that the products they purchased would be the same every time. It’s easy to understand why McDonald’s and Wonder Bread flourished during this time.

Fast forward to today, and quality is no longer defined solely by reliability and consistency. Today, quality is defined by food that is real, whole, and made with fresh ingredients you recognize because they are in your own pantry. This food is prepared, specifically for you, moments before you eat it. It’s a great time to be in the culinary space.

In addition to how people think about quality, people are also changing the way they approach meals. For many years, eating was very structured with “three square” meals a day that were planned ahead. Everyone came to the table at the same time and ate together. Food was fairly functional. It was designed to fill the family up until their next meal, and they were expected to eat everything on their plate.

The Rise of Snacking

The way we eat now has moved from this structured approach to a much more spontaneous eating style. Now nearly half of all adult eating occasions happen alone,1 and rather than “three squares” most people snack multiple times throughout the day. People eat when it fits into their schedule where ever they are, so we see more eating “on the go.” And food is often customized for each person by savvy purveyors like Starbucks, Chipotle, and others.

All of this is leading to the blurring of snacks and meals, where mini-meals serve as snacks and snack foods often serve as meals. Traditional snack food use is growing at all times of day, up double digits in the past three years at breakfast,2 for example. In addition to snacks serving as meals, new snacking occasions are emerging. The “pre-breakfast snack” might consist of a granola bar first thing in the morning, going to the gym for a workout, and then having a breakfast sandwich (their “breakfast”) post-workout. Snacking is growing away from home as well. In non-commercial channels, snacking traffic grew 7 percent in the past year—driven by growth in healthcare, lodging, and colleges & universities—while total traffic grew only 1 percent.3

Times of great change always bring opportunity. This is especially true in away-from-home eating, where we can bring culinary solutions, fresh snacking, real foods, and experiences to people who are using and engaging with food in new ways throughout the day, wherever their lifestyle leads them.

(1) Hartman Food Culture 2015
(2) NPD NET Snack Track 3YR change 2012-2015
(3) NPD CREST/ONSITE 12 months ending Dec 2015