If you’re wondering what’s new in U.S. foodservice these days and what popular items are filling consumers’ plates – well, you can start by putting the plates aside because it’s snack time, America!
Indeed, snacks have become one of the largest and fastest growing segments in the food-and-beverage biz with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Replacing traditional meals are small grab-n’-go items, portable cups and bowls, single serving-size eats and treats, and miniature – well – just about everything.
And there’s more. The estimated $100 billion-plus snack market is anything but conventional. While the traditional fanfare is still holding its own (think potato chips, pretzels, nuts, and popcorn), the once narrowly defined market has expanded to include the likes of microwaveable soup cups, fruit kabobs, yogurt parfait cups, cut veggies, smoothies, and pancakes on a stick as consumers reach for small snacks that offer big taste and anything that can be marketed as portable. The largest percentage of snackers are Millennials at 66%, with Gen Z and Gen Xers close behind. However, since all age groups and demographics enjoy snacking, a plethora of service opportunities are now available to providers.
Snack Industry Update
As snacks reshape the way consumers approach eating, here is the latest 411 to digest:
- According to the NDP Group’s recently published Future of Snacking report, Americans are annually consuming approximately 386 billion ready-to-eat snack foods
- Snacks are debuting as both between-meal and main-meal edibles
- Snacks can be just about anything: sweet, salty, or savory, a food, a beverage, or a food and beverage together, and they can be consumed at any time of the day
- Innovation on the part of providers is not required. Rather, small changes can make a big difference, such as presenting regular menu items as minis, positioning them as portables, and offering them all day long
- Today’s snacks toy the line between health and enjoyment: On the one hand are consumer preferences for healthy and better-for-you options (i.e. nuts and seeds, cereal bars, a sandwich or wrap, energy drinks); on the other hand are increasing demands for indulgent pleasures (i.e. ice cream, frozen novelties, chocolate) as consumers capitalize on smaller portion sizes to allow themselves to ‘indulge’ in moderation
- Beverages are also becoming ‘snackified’ and include hot and cold coffees and teas, fortified waters, and smoothies/shakes
Food Industry Experts Weigh in on Snacks
What else do we know? Enjoy digesting the following expert insights:
NPD Food Industry Advisor David Portalatin (author of Eating Patterns in America) says: “The role of snack food is changing in different ways in reaction to Americans’ desire for balance, portable snack foods, and holistic wellness. It’s no longer about depriving yourself of something you enjoy eating. Today it’s about giving yourself permission to eat indulgent snack foods in moderation.”
There are two basic types of snack foods, says Marissa Solis, vice president of marketing for Frito Lay North America’s away-from-home division. The first is for nourishment and fuel, the second for personal or social enjoyment. Examples of the former include a piece of fruit, breakfast bars, mini quiches, and humus. Examples of the latter include high protein ice cream, thinner cookies, mini pizzas, and peanut butter and jelly bites.
Breakfast Snacks Reign Supreme
Out of all the categories, the surge in breakfast snacks is the greatest as consumers are literally eating up well-loved, favorite breakfast foods turned mini or bite-size. Also on the rise is the wave of second-breakfast popularity as consumers show desire and willingness to purchase breakfast fanfare outside of morning hours. Examples of breakfast snack favorites include French toast sticks, mini muffins, pancake balls, cinnamon rolls and mozzarella sticks.
Moreover – and most importantly for restaurant owners and food venue operators – a collaborative report from Technomic, Inc. and the J.M. Smucker Company indicates that the merging of the breakfast and snacking trends presents an unprecedented and untapped opportunity for attracting customer interest and driving traffic: “Operators are learning that marrying breakfast with snacks is a recipe for success. Both are popular food service occasions with consumers and together offer a tremendous amount of opportunity for operators to drive traffic. Further, breakfast snacks fit into consumers’ demanding on-the-go lifestyles that leave little time for traditional sit-down meals. Larger industry trends, such as the growth of all-day and second breakfast, also showcase the need for more breakfast snacks at restaurants.”
And since breakfast bars are a particularly practical option with significant lucrative potential, Technomic and Smucker suggest that chefs prepare them from scratch using kitchen staples such as oats, nuts, seeds, and nut butters. One business taking their recommendations to heart is Coolgreens, a fast casual restaurant based in Oklahoma City that developed its snack menu on the basis of the recent trends. Their ball-shaped Energy Bites are comprised of honey, oats, peanut butter, vanilla, toasted coconut, flax seeds, and chocolate. The healthy concoction has been such a success that several local athletic teams have even adopted this innovation as their go-to snack. Additional new recipes appearing on their snack menu are pumpkin spice bites, house-smoked pecans, vinegar zucchini chips, and sea salt chips. In the words Angelo Cipollone, the company’s director of operations, the snack additions are filling a void on the menu and “bringing in new customers, often at non-peak hours.”
All-Day Breakfast is All the Rage
And it’s not just local food venues that are hopping on the snack love boat. Industry giants such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s now feature all-day breakfast menus than include offerings such as McGriddles, Breakfast Crunchwrap, and Jack in the Box’s Mini Pancakes.
At the same time, here is some more good news for restaurant businesses of all sizes. According to NDP analyst Bonnie Riggs, one of the reasons snack sales have increased two to five times faster than the rest of the industry is the relative ease with which providers can adapt their menus, giving the market a lower barrier to entry than other food groups. She also notes that “Snacking is growing at restaurants…” and that the “afternoon snack is the strongest-performing meal occasion…” This makes adding snacks options to your restaurant’s menu even more relevant, more creative, and more exciting.
Snack Ideas to Add to Your Menu
Not sure what types of snacks consumers are craving? Well, according to Nation Restaurant News reports, you will still find many of the classic favorites on the list, including French fries, ice cream, potato chips, coffee, juices, and carbonated sodas. However, some of the new kids on the block and some of the segments gaining traction include:
- Vegetables and dips in portable/carry-out containers
- Healthier foods such as vegetable chips in place of potato chips
- Ordering ‘lunchy’ menu selections such as mini burgers and chicken sandwiches for snacks
- According to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking Occasion report, approximately one-third (30%) of customers view snacking between meals as part of a healthy diet. The same report indicates that 52% of consumers seek snacks that are high in protein, 48% want energizing snacks, 44% are interested in snacks high in Vitamin C, and 43% seek high-fiber options
Snack Market Continues to Evolve
For years, the Sonic restaurant enterprise has embraced snacking with its ‘Happy Hour’ late-morning half-price beverages and evening half-price milkshakes. Today, Sonic is augmenting their half-price drinks with snack food items such as mozzarella sticks and tots, with limited time offers such as boneless wings and Lil’ Griller sandwiches, and with more traditional picks like hot dogs.
“What these items do is fill that need for snacking any time of the day,” says Scott Uehlein, Sonic VP of Product Innovation and Development. Moreover, he goes on to say that snacking… “doesn’t mean the same as it did five years ago, and there will continue to be innovation. Whether the snack is seen as a small meal or a traditional snack or something else, the meaning will continue to evolve.”
Good Luck on your foodservice’s venture into the Wonderful World of Snacking!