Snacks to Beat the Blues

Bakery goods should benefit from the continued growth of the global snack foods market in today’s stressful times, assuming manufacturers can satisfactorily address challenges such as consumer health concerns and competition from other products. Extruded products such as crisp bread, breadsticks and pretzels are no exception. 

By Jonathan Thomas

The global market for snack foods continues to evolve within the post-pandemic world, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Between 2020 and 2022 (i.e. when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its zenith throughout the world), the prevalence and frequency of snacking increased amongst the global population. Much of this was attributed to the fact that people were seeking out comfort foods and indulgent treats, as a way of dealing with negative feelings. According to data from research firm FMCG Gurus, over half (54%) of the global population claimed to actively seek out snack foods viewed as indulgent treats in 2021, up from 34% two years earlier. The same research found that 69% of people defined a snack food as a moment of indulgence during 2021. 

Snacking remains a widespread global trend. In the US, for example, research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that 73% of consumers claimed to snack at least once a day during 2022. Separate data from YouGov also illustrates the fact that snacking is commonplace in many western economies. A recent survey found that 65% of US consumers often snack between meals, a figure that decreases to 58% for the UK, 44% in Germany and 30% in France. 

The IFIC survey, which canvassed the opinions of more than 1,000 adults aged 18 and over, also discovered that the snacking habit was more deeply ingrained amongst people feeling stressed. Almost a quarter (24%) of respondents claimed to always or frequently eat when they felt stressed, while the percentage of US consumers snacking for reasons of stress rose from 58% in 2021 to 73% a year later. As modern life remains stressful for many people – especially given the economic and political turbulence affecting large parts of the world – it seems likely that consumers will turn to snacking to make themselves feel better within the next 12 months. 

Dietary trends such as increased snacking have prompted fears that some of the behavioral traits adopted during the pandemic may be stoking health risks for the future. It is important to note, however, that health considerations continue to act as a major driver within the global market for snack foods. Across much of the world – especially in the more developed regions – consumers continue to seek out healthier options, with demand for snack foods offering lower sugar, salt and calorie levels well to the fore. Interest in products free from artificial additives and ingredients, as well as clean-label snacks, remains high. On a related note, there is also evidence that more people now expect manufacturers of snack foods to consider issues such as sustainability and the environment when producing, packaging and distributing their products. 

Demand for snacks is also being heavily influenced by the increased tendency of consumers to swap these types of foods for formal meals. According to the 2021 edition of the Global Consumer Snacking Trends Survey carried out by Harris Poll on behalf of Mondelez (which canvassed the opinions of more than 3,000 people in over 18 countries), 92% of consumers admitted to replacing at least one weekly meal with snacks, while 7% claimed to eat few, if any, formal meals. The same research found that 62% of consumers regularly replaced at least one formal meal with a snack. This habit is especially prevalent within the younger age groups, since the percentage of people doing so rose to 69% of millennials and 75% of those belonging to Generation Z. With snacks now fulfilling a wider role in people’s daily habits, it seems likely that the choice of products will continue to broaden, given the consumer desire for greater variety. 

Most Popular Snacks

Bakery goods such as biscuits, cookies, crackers and cakes compete against a wide range of snack foods, both sweet and savory. Some snack foods display a definitive bias regarding the time of day when they are usually consumed – for example, fruit appears to be a favorite option during the first half of the day in markets such as the US, whereas snacks such as chocolate, confectionery and salted products tend to be more popular later on, usually in the afternoon or evening. 

The YouGov data mentioned earlier provides some indication of how bakery snacks measure up against their competitors in certain western economies. As can be seen from the data below, over 60% of UK consumers claimed to eat cookies and/or biscuits as snacks at least once a week. This figure is notably higher than both Germany (44%) and the US (43%), possibly due to the deeply ingrained habit of eating biscuits with hot drinks such as tea. 

In all three markets, cookies and biscuits trail other varieties of snacks – in the US, for example, potato chips/crisps, chocolate/confectionery and nuts, seeds and dried fruit are consumed as snacks at least once a week by more than half of consumers. In both the UK and Germany, over 70% of consumers regularly snack on chocolate and confectionery products, a higher figure than is the case for biscuits and cookies. The YouGov data also found that almost 40% of consumers in the UK and Germany snacked on cakes at least once a week. 

Consumption of sweet bakery goods such as cakes, pastries and cookies/biscuits continues to be hindered by health concerns, specifically sugar and calorie levels in these products. Many manufacturers have turned to product reformulation to address this issue, usually by reducing sugar levels or eliminating artificial additives. Additionally, consumers in markets such as the US are increasingly demanding sweet bakery goods in single and/or smaller portions, such as individual cake slices. This enables consumers to monitor calorie intake more easily. 

You can read the rest of this article in the January-February issue of European Baker & Biscuit, which you can access by clicking here

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