All-day snacking options: A must-have perk

April 17, 2017

A mix of snacks can satisfy a variety of appetites and tastes in the workplace.

Snacking at Work

It’s official. We are a nation of snackers.

Research firm Datassential recently released the results of a study asking 3,500 consumers to track their snacking habits in a diary. Nearly all of them — 94 percent — owned up to snacking. The average frequency was four to five times per day.

That study provides the most compelling evidence that the traditional three meal dining pattern is dead. NPD Group also documented a shift away from formal meals in its recent “Report on Eating Patterns in America,” which notes that snacking accounts for 35 percent of all eating occasions in the U.S. NPD determined that the most popular times for snacking, not surprisingly, fall between peak meal times: 8 a.m.-11 a.m. (18 percent), 1 p.m.-5 p.m. (28 percent) and 7 p.m.-11 p.m. (34 percent).

Snacks are no longer a “nice to have;” they are ingrained into our lifestyles. “Consumers today expect snacks to work for them; the snack is no longer just a reward,” says David Portalatin, NPD’s vice president, industry analysis. “Snack foods which offer consumers flexibility on price, portion size and portability allow them to compose an eating occasion that fits their specific needs at the time, whether they look at it as a snack, meal replacement or part of a main meal occasion.”

For employers, it’s clear that simply making food available during traditional dayparts is no longer enough. On-site customers crave between meal choices for a variety of reasons: to provide sustained energy or tide them over, as a way to handle stress, to keep blood sugar levels even or simply for pleasure. Millennials tend to nosh throughout the day. And some 8 percent of snackers claim to subsist only on snacks, eschewing regular meals, according to The Hartman Group.

That mix of motivations and snacking styles underscores the importance of offering a variety of snacking choices. For example:

  • In a 2016 survey of millennials’ eating habits conducted for the Private Label Manufacturers Association, half of the respondents said they don’t follow any set schedule for meals, four out of 10 said they eat out of necessity and a third consider eating a distraction from other activities. As a result, many “plan to eat later and want something to hold them over.” That is the most commonly cited reason, followed by being in a rush (43 percent) and lack of time (43 percent). Calorie dense snack choices which include protein and complex carbs would satisfy this group.

  • Purposeful snacking — eating to gain a quick energy boost, increase mental focus or manage stress — is another popular practice. Consumers in this group tend to gravitate toward caffeine-containing drinks, energy and granola bars and meat snacks.

  • The Hartman Group found that nearly half of snacking occasions revolve around pleasure, indulgence and reward. Chocolate, candy, cookies, salty snacks and carbonated soft drinks often fit the bill when these are the motivating factors.

  • Time of day is also a factor determining what kinds of snacks consumers favor. According to NPD, foods considered healthier, such as fruit, yogurt and granola or breakfast bars, are most popular early in the day; savory items such as chips, pretzels, meat and nuts dominate in the afternoon, often as a lunch replacement; and consumption of sweet treats spikes after dinner.

Making a robust variety of snacks available in the workplace is a way to satisfy a growing appetite for nourishment outside of traditional meal periods. It’s a way to keep a team happy, productive and engaged, and discourage them from taking time away from work and straying outside to satisfy their hankerings. It’s also a potential recruiting tool.

Companies like Facebook, Zappos and other high-profile startups offer gourmet food, onsite massage, haircuts, concierges and other perks designed to attract and keep a happy and productive workforce. They have raised the expectations for younger recruits who see meals and snacks at work (especially when offered free or at a reduced cost) as a valuable perk. A 2015 survey by grocery delivery service Peapod found that employees at companies that provided free food were more likely to consider themselves “extremely” or “very” happy with their current jobs. Nearly half of the survey respondents said perks like availability of snacks would weigh heavily in their perceptions during a job search.

That kind of thinking has led firms like Appeagle, a New Jersey-based software company, to boast to potential candidates about its food-at-work policy, which includes breakfast and lunch each day (“because…bacon”) and a kitchen stocked with snacks (“because who doesn’t love snacks?”).