Nearly 90% of consumers are snacking as much or more than before the pandemic.
Snacking had been a fast-growing consumer behavior before the pandemic upended traditional eating patterns, according to research from The NPD Group, and it remains an important opportunity for operators to drive sales and traffic.
But reaching customers who are interested in snacking will require new strategies. Many are expected to continue working from home at least part of the time, where they may have different foodservice options than they had in their previous workday routines.
A forecast from the consultancy Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25% to 30% of the workforce will be working from home several days each week by the end of the year.
“We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices,” the report concludes. “For those who were new to working remotely until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption.”
If this prediction holds, operators will have significantly fewer opportunities to capture snacking business from commuters on their way to and from their places of work, as well as fewer opportunities to sell between-meal snacks from locations near office buildings and other workplaces.
But that doesn’t mean consumers have stopped snacking. In fact, 88% of consumers report that they are snacking as much as, if not more, than they were before the pandemic.
Restaurants can seek to capture more snacking occasions outside the traditional workplace by better positioning themselves as resources for snacks—either through their menu offerings or by making themselves convenient to these customers through delivery or other services.
One of the ways restaurants have been satisfying at-home snackers during the pandemic has been with leftovers. Consumers have often deliberately been purchasing more food than they need for immediate consumption—and saving the leftovers for future eating occasions, says Robertson Allen, a senior consultant for Hartman Retainer Services.
“There’s all this excitement about going back to restaurants now, but people are still wanting to have leftovers on hand, whether it’s for meals or snacks,” he says.
Operators can capitalize by offering incentives for consumers to purchase a second meal, appetizer, dessert or snack that could be saved for another time. But they should also bear in mind that consumers may be looking for snacking opportunities that allow them to explore new cuisines, flavors and ingredients, Allen says.
“There’s this pent-up demand to explore different flavors that they might not have in their homes,” he explains. “Last year we had a return to simpler, more nostalgic comfort foods, and I don’t think that’s necessarily going to go away. But I do think we’re seeing the emergence of new, exploratory opportunities. Consumers really want to get out there and try new things.”
Allen points to McDonald’s BTS Meal—named after the South Korean musical group, and featuring two South Korean-inspired sauces together with a regular order of Chicken McNuggets—as an example of something that could be seen as novel and fresh to many consumers.
Another opportunity for restaurants to meet consumer demand for snacking opportunities is through prepackaged sides or desserts that accompany meals. The Hartman Group discovered, for example, that some consumers say they save the side dishes that accompany their restaurant meals as a snack for another occasion.
Operators could consider how they package these sides to make them easier for consumers to store for future use, Allen suggests.
“Small tweaks like that could really help to reposition some of those combo meals,” he says.
While consumers are spending more time away from their places of work, operators may have opportunities to bring meals and snacks to them— through delivery, relocation or via venues such as food trucks.
“Consumers used delivery a lot during the pandemic, and they’re much more accustomed to using it now,” Allen says. “Fast-food restaurants with footprints across suburban areas especially could be well-positioned to deliver that last-mile service for consumers who are working from home.”
Here are some key ways to drive off-premises sales:
Allen says he also sees an opportunity for restaurants to bring branded food trucks to residential areas where people are working at home.
“We see it especially on college campuses, but there’s also opportunity to go into residential communities, condos and apartment complexes in the suburbs,” he explains.
Restaurants also could consider opening up their spaces for homebound workers to use as secondary office space.
This could be done formally through partnerships with companies such as KettleSpace, Recess or WorkChew, which partner with restaurants and bars to open their dining rooms as workspace for limited hours during the day. Or operators could simply designate a section of their restaurant dining room or bar for use by local workers as an alternative to the often-crowded and noisy coffee shops that many workers frequent.
Either way, these create opportunities for operators to offer a variety of meal and snack options for workers, including full lunches, baked goods that pair with coffee, or small plates and shared appetizers that customers can enjoy while working at home.
WorkChew, for example, promotes the menus of its restaurant partners to its members as part of its agreement with partners.
“It brings business during off-peak periods, which also gives us another channel for customer acquisitions,” says Andre McCain, founder of HalfSmoke in Washington, D.C., which allows WorkChew members to use its tables during the day.
“They order a lot of food—and drinks,” he adds.
Snacking is as important as ever in today’s environment—but the environment itself has changed. The shift toward telecommuting is creating new opportunities for restaurants to reach consumers both in their homes and on premises.
However restaurant operators choose to pursue today’s snacking opportunities, Mondelēz International Foodservice offers insights and innovative solutions that can help drive sales and ROI.
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