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Snacking trends have shifted over the years, but some preferences have remained the same. Even though innovative, nontraditional snack foods are gaining in popularity between meals, consumers still choose familiar, reasonably priced packaged snacks.
Meanwhile, snacking is on the rise. According to Chicago-based Technomic’s Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend report, 51 percent of consumers say they eat snacks at least twice a day, up from 48 percent in 2012. When asked which traditional snacks they purchase at least occasionally, 71 percent said they choose candy, 62 percent said nuts, 59 percent said crackers, 58 percent said fresh fruit, and 50 percent said string cheese.
Also according to Technomic, 60 percent of today's consumers — compared to 55 percent in 2012 — cite portability as an important or extremely important factor when choosing a snack. So restaurants should look at other foodservice venues, including retailers that are not traditional restaurants. Weikel notes that convenience stores, which have long been the place to go for snacks, are now boosting their meal offerings to better compete with fast-casual eateries. Meanwhile, restaurants should look to packaged snack options to remain competitive.
“If you are a restaurant, why not leverage everything you can,” says Kelly Weikel, director, consumer insights for Technomic.
Many of these popular snacks are merchandised near the register — especially in noncommercial foodservice venues — which experts say helps to fuel sales.
“The right merchandising completely drives sales,” says Joie Schoonover, director of dining and culinary services for University Housing for the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She says students buy packaged items at point-of-sale when they have their meals, and also at on-campus convenience stores and at the university’s Bean and Creamery coffeehouses.
People often want grab-and-go snacks that they can toss into their bags for later. Schoonover says the snacks at the cash registers are displayed in baskets, because the baskets are attractive and look like something the students might see at home in their kitchens. The baskets hold granola bars, energy bars, fruit, and other impulse items.
There is also a decorative but functional table in the center of the one of UW – Madison’s marketplace operations. The table is round and staff members can adjust the height. “When we added it, it made no difference what we placed on it, it sells,” Schoonover says. That includes packaged gluten-free snacks, like breakfast bars, which have been very popular lately, notably among those customers who are looking for healthier options. “I think a lot of people buy them because it looks so attractive, even to non-gluten-free people.”
The way people snack, and the times when they snack have changed. Years ago students ate breakfast, lunch, dinner and sometimes a late night snack. That evolved to lunch, dinner, late night meal, because students were not starting their day in time to eat breakfast. Now the trend is all day snacking.
That creates opportunities because students have to decide what to eat, many times a day. “All of us, as we go about our everyday lives, have to make a ton of decisions,” Schoonover says. “By having products displayed well it makes the decision process easy for them.”
Pete Napolitano, director of auxiliary services for Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y., says snack habits and foods have changed. For example, vending machine sales are down. “People are not buying snacks from machines because they are opting for fresh, and they want to see where the food comes from,” he says. “They are interested in fresh displays put out in front of them.”
Students are opting for smoothies and fresh foods, but they also occasionally eat cereal or cookies. “During the day they eat more healthy foods, and at night it’s time to splurge a little bit,” Napolitano says. “During the day they have the stress of class and social aspects of campus life and meeting friends. At night they are back in their rooms, they kick back, and the time to stress is gone. They indulge a little bit.”
Students also buy Bearcat granola bars and Bearcat cookies, which are branded with Binghamton University’s mascot. “We are marketing and managing them as signature items,” Napolitano says.
University foodservice is not the only operation that can benefit from the smart merchandising of snacks. Some fast-casual restaurants are adept at this, says Weikel, from Technomic.
“There are a lot of restaurants that don’t necessarily market it as snacks,” she says. “What are traditional snacks? You think of chips, pretzels, handheld baked goods. Those are items the restaurants carry, but they tend to bundle it as part of their menu items.”
Panera Bread packages its cookies and merchandises them at the counter. Così sells its own chips and also has yogurt parfaits that are grab-and-go. and Pret A Manger offers its own branded bags of trail mix, kettle chips, organic popcorn and bars. Starbucks has large displays on the floor, and small merchandisers on the counter, with packaged snacks of various brands. Blimpie and many other sandwich chains do a big business in chips and cookies.
“Most of these items are already heavily associated with snacking occasions so it’s not a big hurdle to position it as a snack,” Weikel says. “They could be promoting them as snacks for later.”
Other countertop displays can include tiered wire racks, “trees” with rotating snacks, bread baskets, or plastic or bamboo trays. Away from the counter, operators can set up a table in front of the deli case to display chips, or set up more elaborate cardboard shipper displays of snacks, and clip strips that can hold bags of snacks in other sections of the store.