Trends & Insights

Foodservice Trend: Feeding the Big Appetite for Snacking

Thursday, June 2, 2016



Breakfast is for snackingThree squares a day. For many, many years, this was the stock answer to the age-old question, “How many meals should an individual eat every day as part of a healthy diet?” Today, a lot of consumers are challenging that notion and opting for five or six smaller meals, or snacks. Whether this trend is driven by busier lifestyles, the expanding array of products marketed as snacks or the latest weight-loss theories on the market, consumers’ eating norms and attitudes toward snacks have shifted.

Snacking is convenient, providing flexibility for those eating solo, empty-nesters, two-career households and families overwhelmed with Little League, carpooling, dance class and all of the other extracurricular demands of active children.

Today, snacks – once considered any items consumed outside of a traditional meal – not only encompass consumption during “off-peak” hours, they also are increasingly complementing or replacing traditional meals. Consumers also are labeling a wider variety of foods as snacks.    

While snacking behaviors have steadily increased over the past several years, Technomic reveals in its 2016 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report that consumption has accelerated most significantly between 2014 and 2016, which has foodservice operators taking note. This trend is an expected win for establishments such as coffee shops and bakeries, which tend to position their menu items as premium snacks; however, it also presents opportunities for other foodservice operators to capitalize on Americans’ serial need to snack.

Quick-Service Restaurants
A decade ago, the “super-size” trend was infiltrating fast-food chains across the country. More and bigger was better. Today, the industry has done an about-face. Dollar menus and lighter, healthier snacking options are boosting incremental sales for these establishments. Already meeting the needs of the on-the-go consumer, the portability of fast food lends itself to the snacking trend. Pricing also is an advantage for quick-service restaurants (QSRs) that are known for delivering value options. Consumers are more price-sensitive in the snacking arena than when they are spending on a meal during a traditional daypart.

Technomic’s report also shares that the introduction of popular all-day breakfast items are serving QSRs well. Due to the small portion size and price point, breakfast fare will gain ground when positioned as nutritious snacks that can tide consumers over until their next meal. Expanding the availability of the breakfast menu will help to regain some of the market share that had shifted to the retail prepared-foods channel, which has been flourishing with the introduction of portable, better-for-you positioned branded packaged items.

Younger consumers have embraced snacks as part of their diets and, as members of the millennial generation become parents, these habits will be instilled in the next generation of consumers – their kids. Smaller portions, more variety and healthy options are in demand, prompting even the most robust fast-food chains to include orange slices, apple slices and yogurt into kids’ meals. It’s just one example of foodservice operators shrewdly adjusting to this new normal. 

Full-Service Restaurants
When dining out at a full-service restaurant (FSR), consumers are conditioned to select a meal from the menu – and perhaps add an appetizer and dessert if they’re really making a night of it. FSRs are positioned as meal-time destinations. Capitalizing on the snack trend requires FSRs to expand their core menu offerings to include smaller portions and menu items characterized as “sharable.”

While the 2016 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report advises FSRs to seek growth via snacking occasions, few consumers report purchasing snacks from this segment. Adjusting menus to include small plates and sharable items is a way to address this mind shift; however, to realize success, FSRs must effectively market their new positioning, emphasizing how their sharable items are unique, trendy and innovative.

In a second Technomic study, 2015 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, research indicated that 53 percent of consumers order sides, 39 percent order appetizers and 30 percent order small plates on all or most of their restaurant visits. This finding corroborates how the rise in anytime eating has helped to reshape the menu. Marketing to the happy-hour crowd is one way FSRs can exploit the snack trend and service between-daypart customers.

While QSRs will win the snack war on value and convenience, their full-service counterparts will need to differentiate themselves with unique creations and a menu mix of indulgent and healthy items.

No matter the type of foodservice establishment, the appetite for snacks is not waning. And, the share of stomach is up for grabs.  

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