Snack trend: Portable and always available

May 12, 2016

Snack trend: Portable and always available

Operators fulfill consumers’ all-day, on-the-go snack needs on campus and at the office.

Portable snacking success, plus tips for your operation

Operators are finding success in portable snack offerings. Here we share some creative ideas as well as tips to help you gain your share of snack revenue.


Repackage comfort food

Spectra, which handles the foodservices and hospitality management at sports venues and other facilities, offers the Chicken & Waffle Cone at BB&T Ballpark, home of the Charlotte Knights Minor League Baseball Team. The Chicken & Waffle Cone consists of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, slaw, and barbecue sauce all wrapped in a waffle cone.

Tip: Comfort food is always on trend, especially when it is reinvented as a portable snack. Think outside the container for creative snack carriers.
(Image source: Spectra)


Build your own

When Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis renovated its café, the build-your-own yogurt parfait concept showed immediate success. The new bar saw an increase from 10 servings to 40 servings a day. 1

Tip:When creating a build-your-own-bar – make sure you have variety. For example, offering a selection of fruits, nuts, granola, candy pieces and sauces (caramel, chocolate, etc.) will help fulfill cravings of customers looking for healthy, indulgence, or a mix of both.
(Image source: istock)


Bar none

According to a Penton Research study, bars (breakfast/granola) are the most popular morning snack offering in the noncommercial operators surveyed.2

Tip:Tip: Consider bundling items such as coffee, fruit and breakfast bars for incremental sales. A study from Penton Research shows combination snacks comprise the greatest percent of snack purchases (40 percent) 2 (Image source: iStock)


Nutritional Choices

Parkhurst Dining debuted a smoothie bar at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. in March. Students can choose the base, anything from Greek yogurt to coconut water to ice, three or more fruits, and premium ingredients such as chia seeds or flax seeds. There are also selections such as “Practice What You Peach,” which is good for the immune system and contains peaches, carrots, ginger, orange juice, and flaxseeds; “Muscle Monkey,” which targets recovery and has extra protein; “Hydro-Melon 2.0,” which targets hydration, and the most popular item, “Bucky’s Beets-N-Berries,” which contains antioxidants (beets have betalains which are antioxidants).
“The smoothie bar exceeded everyone’s expectations,” says Brittany L. Lynch, marketing manager, on-site brands, for Parkhurst Dining Services, Bucknell University. “Our students are very health conscious, and they are educated about what’s good for their bodies,” she says. The smoothie bar is open only at lunchtime now, and next semester it will run all day. “We are feeling confident we are only going to see sales grow with that.”

Tip:Tip: Offer healthful items that are bold and fun. According to Blendtec, Build-Your-Own smoothie bar concepts are seeing huge success. Also, smoothie meals on-the-go, or smoothies that contain superfood ingredients to help customers to feel sustained all day long, are also picking up in popularity.3 (Image Source: Parkhurst, Bucky's Beets-N-Berries)


Find the Other Proteins

At the kiosks and micro-markets that Avanti Markets sets up in corporate locations, the biggest sellers among grab and go snacks are portable protein snacks, hard boiled eggs, hummus with pretzels and pickles. Those preferences fit well with the recently updated U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations that are jointly published every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The 2015 guidelines recommend less sugar and more protein from a variety of sources, such as eggs, beans and nuts. 5

Tip: Trends and news reports will play a role in consumer snack purchases. Put those items with trending ingredients at eye level and near checkouts.
(Image Source: Thinkstock)


Go Gluten-Free

At the University of North Dakota, the Wilkerson Dining Center has an Allergen Free concept that offers gluten-free foods and other foods free of common allergens. Among the most popular portable gluten-free snacks is coconut milk Greek yogurt. To reassure diners with sensitivities and allergies, the section offers materials with a disclaimer explaining that people who have allergies to tree nuts can safely eat coconut, which is not a botanical nut but a fruit. Another popular snack is the Greek Yogurt Oatmeal Cups, which contain Greek Yogurt, Gluten Free Oats, and Enjoy Life Dairy, Nut and Soy-Free semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Tip:Make printed materials available for consumers who have questions about ingredients.
(Image source: University of North Dakota)


Include ethnic options

Freshly made sushi rolls and Asian snacks, such as Pocky Sticks, Japanese Ramune drinks and mochi ice cream are all popular sellers at UMass. Ken Toong, executive director at UMass reports "We serve more sushi than anyone in campus dining in the nation—about 4,000 rolls every night.”

Tip: The typical serving size for Sushi is 6-8 Rolls. To create smaller snack options, consider dividing up your packaging into a half size serving with only 4 rolls. Apply this tip to other items on your menu – divide larger menu items into bite- or snack-sized options.
(Image source: iStock)


Stay with Established Favorites

At Compass One Healthcare, Greek yogurt is the top selling portable snack in retail and foodservice. According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2016 Culinary Forecast, 33 percent of chefs said Greek yogurt is a hot trend now, and 30 percent said Greek is a perennial favorite. 6

Tip: Sometimes consumers want to stick with their longtime standby snacks. Offer a mix of customer favorites and new snack items.
(Image source iStock)

What’s for dinner (or breakfast or lunch)? was once the familiar refrain. These days, whether it’s on campus or at the office, busy, on-the-go consumers are singing a different tune, asking what’s for snack? Savvy noncommercial foodservice operators are responding to consumers’ new eating habits with an array of portable snacks and easy indulgences.

“Snacking is a new way of eating,” said Ken Toong, Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst, MA. “[Students] eat six square meals a day.”

At UMass, students can find snacks at half a dozen different campus markets or convenience stores, as well as the university’s main dining commons.

“[Students] want to eat anywhere, any place, any time,” said Toong. “Convenience is very important to them. Grab-and-go is real popular.”

Toong has seen the university’s snack business grow exponentially in the last decade. Today, 19,000 students are on the meal plan, up from 12,000 a decade ago. With overall enrollment largely stable, Toong attributes the growth to more and better dining options.

Snacking is growing not just at UMass, but also at many other noncommercial foodservice outlets across the country. According to a February 2016 snack report conducted by Penton Research, snack sales haves notably increased in the last two years at noncommercial foodservice outlets.

Datassential, a foodservice research firm, echoes the snack growth at higher education institutions in its March 2016 FoodBytes: Colleges and University report in which operators overwhelmingly reported that: “Our c-store is the most profitable area on our campus. Grab-and-go is huge.”

Like UMass, snacking is also important at Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC) in Bangor, ME, which serves about 5,000 students.

“All day they snack,” said George Thrift, director of dining services at EMCC. But the snack demand is not only happening at colleges and universities. Boston-based Unidine is among the many foodservice management companies seeing a boom in snack business at its corporate locations.

“The corporate world is big in snacks,” said Serge Roche, director of field retail experience at Unidine. “The snack is something to which we’ve been giving a lot of attention.”

Some restaurant companies are even seizing the opportunity to meet working consumers’ snack habits. For example, last October, Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), which operates numerous restaurants, opened The Market@Beatrix on the campus of Northwestern Memorial Hospital largely to serve the on-the-go snack and meal needs of the hospital’s patients and employees. The 1,200-square-foot market features hot and cold bars, soups, and grab-and-go cases, among other quick food options. Among the most popular portable snack offerings are spicy tuna sushi, brown rice veggie roll, Mediterranean salad, hummus with pita and veggies, and chocolate.

Snack Choices

Sushi, sundaes, or yogurt parfaits—pretty much anything qualifies as a snack these days. As a result, many noncommercial operators say they are offering a wide variety of options, including familiar branded items and house-made items.

According to the Penton report, more than half of noncommercial operators surveyed said they incorporate branded ingredients or prepackaged branded items into their snack and dessert offerings.

While in recent years snacks at UMass have moved more toward fresh, house-made and healthy, such as fresh and cut fruit, Greek yogurt, nuts (especially pistachios), hummus cups, and granola bars, Toong says students still want easy indulgences and familiar brands.

“You need a good mix of both,” he said.

To achieve that mix, UMass also offers brand favorites such Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Clif Bars and Pepperidge Farm® Cookies in addition to its fresh-made selections. Also seeing movement are packaged gelato, packaged smoothies, protein packs and branded veggie and fruit drinks. Freshly made sushi rolls and Asian snacks, such as Pocky Sticks, Japanese Ramune drinks and mochi ice cream, are all also popular sellers at UMass.

When it comes to what students at EMCC want to snack on, Thrift says it runs the gamut.

“Some are looking for what can I get for a dollar; some are working out so they grab a protein bar,” said Thrift. “That’s why we stock it with as much diversity as we can.”

Popular offerings at EMCC campus café include house-made pudding topped with crumbled cookies or toasted coconut, hummus and pita chips, yogurt parfaits and a build-your-own yogurt bar, as well as branded yogurt cups and branded granola bars.

For Unidine’s corporate clients the focus is on fresh, chef-made and customizable snacks, both savory and sweet.

“The strategy is you get to do something special for the snacker,” said Roche. “Create a little energy.”

Undine is doing that by offering items such as afternoon pizza bites, mini cupcakes, coffee and a bite of spiced chocolate or good quality cheese spread and crackers. Usually it’s served on a plate for customers to grab and go, but sometimes it’s simply packaged in clear plastic with a tie and a logo sticker. The company also offers a variety of build-your-own options, such as yogurt bars with premium toppings.

“We offer build-your-own wherever we can,” said Roche. “That creates interaction with the guests.”

With snacking proving to be a long-term shift in the way consumers eat, the demand for snacks isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. Operators who want to grow snack revenues should behave like the busy snackers they serve and grab and go with this opportunity.

Back to Industry News Home

1 Parfait Perfection, Food Management -
2 Penton Research study for Mondelez International, 2016
3 Blendtec Unveils Top 10 Trends for Foodservice Smoothies in 2016
4 UMass serves more sushi (4,000 rolls a day) than any campus dining in U.S. - and now at football games, -
5 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines "
6 National Restaurant Association, What’s Hot in 2016 Culinary Forecast