Research Perspective and Comments & Analysis
A CLOSER LOOK AT SNACKING:
Nine Out of Ten School Snacks Brought from Home; Fresh Fruit Among Most Popular In-School Snacks Teens & Millennials Most Likely to Consume Just-Bought Snacks
School bells are ringing again and along with the daily bundle of books and school supplies are the all-important snacks. According to snacking research by The NPD Group, students aged 6 to 12 consume 4.1 snack-oriented convenience foods daily in and out of school, and teens 13 to 17 consume 3.8 snacks daily. NPD’s SnackTrack®, which tracks all snacking occasions in- and away-from-home every day of the year, reports that 90 percent of school snacks are brought from home.
The most popular school snacks, whether eaten at lunch or at snack time, vary by age group, and often the variation is due to when there is parental influence and when there is not. In the case of 6 to 12 year-olds, an age when parents often choose the foods and beverages their children eat, fresh fruit, fruit cups/applesauce, potato chips, meal kits and yogurt are the top school snacks, according to NPD’s SnackTrack.
Teens, who tend to make their own food choices, include gum, fresh fruit, potato chips, chocolate bars/candy bars, and granola bars among their most popular school snacks. For both age groups, sandwiches are still the reigning school lunch entrée and are included in two-thirds of school brown bag lunches.
“Snack foods are increasingly becoming a part of the lunch bag carried by children to school, just like snack foods are becoming part of main meals for all of us,” says Harry Balzer, NPD chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America. “The bottom line is that we don’t want to prepare foods more often. We don’t even want to make more sandwiches for our kid’s lunch bag, even though sandwiches are still the number one lunch bag item carried by a kid. Instead we are loading the kids’ lunch bag with easy-to-prepare snack products to be eaten at lunchtime.”
Snacks Purchased By Teens And Millennials Most Often Bought As Instant Consumables
When it comes to snack foods, purchasing these items for immediate consumption represents more than 30 billion eating occasions annually. Teens and young Millennials — those between the ages of 18 and 24 — are the most inclined toward this type of instant gratification.
Between lunch and dinner, followed by lunchtime, are the top occasions during the day when teens are consuming items just purchased. For young Millennials, they are most often consuming these items at lunchtime, followed by the morning meal. At two out of three occasions, both teens and young adults also consume a beverage with their snack items.
The Bottom Line
Progress can be made toward a goal of capturing a larger share of this "buy and consume" behavior with an understanding of the consumer dynamics that drive these purchases. For programs at retail, consider recommending a rotation of the types of items stocked near the entrance or check-out counter to align with the consumer need by time of day.
This will align with the consumer need by time of day. For example, display bagels, fruit, and granola bars in the morning, salty snacks and candy in the afternoon. And don't forget the beverage; co-marketing could increase the basket size for these shoppers.
The Port Washington, NY-based NPD Group provides global information and advisory services to drive better business decisions. Sectors covered include automotive, beauty, entertainment, fashion, food / foodservice, home, office supplies, sports, technology, toys, video games, and wireless. For more information, visit npd.com.
Every day, consumers in the U.S. report their snack food consumption to NPD, resulting in information on over 350,000 snack occasions per year.
Strategic Thinking Needed To Sync With Snacking Trends
The produce industry wrestles with a dilemma that “dare not speak its name” when considering the issue of snacking. As grazing — eating multiple small meals throughout the day — becomes more common, meal occasions become snacking occasions, and the obvious default for the produce industry is to push snacking fruit, typically fruits that are easy to consume, such as apples, pears, bananas, perhaps some easy-peeler citrus, maybe grapes. In some cases, technology and packaging can make these items more appealing; say a cup of individual grapes that fits into a cup holder in a car.
Baby carrots are the vegetable star of the produce snack brigade and, perhaps, celery sticks pick up some business. But, on the whole, the snacking trend is not a friend to many produce items, with the fruits that are unwieldy to eat — say juicy peaches or large melons — and especially not to the salad and cooking vegetables.
Of course, there are different levels of snacking, and melon chunks in a cup can work just fine as part of a sit-down lunch, but cut melons don’t translate well into eating in the car.
Yet the fact that so few vegetables work well in the snacking mode is more than problematic for the produce industry. After all, not only do these items account for a lot of traditional volume, but they account for the bulk of the produce industry’s claim to be a major contributor to health and wellness.
Of course, sweet snacking fruit has a lot of nutritional attributes — vitamin C, potassium, fiber, etc. Yet sweet snacking fruit is, well, sweet! Now this doesn’t mean it is not good for people, especially children. Certainly eating fruit is an excellent nutritional choice, much better than snacking on candy or ice cream. If a person, certainly a child, is highly active, the sugar in sweet fruit can be burned off as useful calories.
If, however, the problem is obesity, not a rise of scurvy due to a shortage of vitamin C, and if there is evidence of a decline in physical activity whereby lots of sweet calories pose a problem to adults and children, then we must acknowledge that simply pushing snack fruit won’t do the job that the produce industry wants to do in terms of produce being a significant advocate in the war against obesity.
In a sense, the produce industry is thus challenged to switch from a general “More Matters” approach, in which boasting all produce consumption is an equal priority, to a new prism, in which the priority is boosting vegetables and especially consumption of bitter vegetables.
Now, the boom in things such as Brussels sprouts and kale certainly shows that people can be motivated to boost consumption of at least certain vegetables. It turns out, though, that a lot of this is driven by foodservice because the key is culinary technique. Cooked well, dressed properly, these items can boom. But they are booming from a small base.
It is often pointed out that more than 50 percent of the food dollar is now spent on food prepared outside the home. This is true, but it overstates the ability of chefs and culinary professionals to move the needle on consumption.
True chefs are now media personalities and can have a powerful impact on consumption if they parley their celebrity to drive healthier cuisine. Their direct impact, though, is smaller than one might think. Firstly, a lot of the star power in chefs comes from the white-tablecloth segment, and that segment isn’t even 1 percent of U.S. foodservice sales.
Secondly, although it is true that more food dollars are spent on food away from home than are spent on food at retail, these dollar figures include a lot of payment for the atmospherics associated with dining out and for the preparation of food. Measured in volume of food passing through the channels, retail is the Goliath, accounting for more than 70 percent of sales.
So though we can applaud the idea of selling more produce in the form of snack fruit, we also need to find ways to boost sales of vegetables and non-snack convenient fruits at retail.
Of course, one way for retailers to boost sales is to make more prepared foods. By thinking strategically, the industry can create the kinds of products that will sync with trends to more snacking while also contributing to the public good by helping in the fight against obesity.
The produce industry needs to move quickly, though, as many of the trends to use these ingredients in snack-friendly ways are coming through the deli/prepared food department. How do you make a difficult-to-drive-and-eat salad into something more consumer-friendly? Well maybe you turn it into a Mediterranean Wrap.
At retail, this may be competition, but in school cafeterias, the key is to find things kids like and will eat. If it starts with a wrap today, so be it. Today’s young charge will grow, and when he does so, maybe he will decide to do his wrap, hold the bread and thus his snack winds up as a salad after all. pb