More than a bite between meals

January 29, 2015

Foodservice operators look to changing trends as consumers embrace snacking. January- More than a bite between meals

Move over, granola bar. Americans are disregarding outdated advice not to eat between meals, and are seeking innovative foods and new ways to snack outside the home. This creates opportunities for foodservice operators who can develop flavors, presentations and portions that keep pace with the changing eating patterns of consumers — especially millennials.

According to Technomic’s Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, 80 percent of snack purchases are made from retailers such as convenience stores, and 20 percent are from foodservice. But that is changing, says Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for the Chicago-based Technomic.

“One thing we’re seeing in the data is that the consumer’s definition of what a snack is, is changing a lot, to more types of foods, beverages and meal replacements,” Weikel says. “Ten years ago they would buy a bag of chips at retail, and now consumers are really starting to see restaurants as a viable place for snacks.”

Part of the change is due to millennials’ growing demand for nontraditional foods, different serving sizes and eating schedules. Millennials are less set in their habits, Weikel explains, so they are not loyal to particular brands or locations.

Weikel and other industry experts predict that certain snacking trends will emerge in 2015:

More portability. Technomic also reports that 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. Also, half of consumers who eat snacks away from home report doing so en route, which is up from 43 percent in 2012.

Better for you. “Healthy snacking is not going to go away,” says Andrew Freeman, president of restaurant and hospitality consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co. in San Francisco. “There’s always time for decadent snacks, the fried items, but there is a trend toward items that are healthier.” Among the guilt-free snacks in 2015, he says, are nuts and items made with interesting fruits and vegetables, beyond the standard crudités of cut up vegetables.

Yogurt. Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for NPD Group in Chicago, says 32 percent of U.S. adults eat yogurt within a two-week period, making it a much more popular food than, say, kale, which garners much attention but is only enjoyed by about 2 percent of the public. Part of yogurt’s appeal is that it is a carrier for fruit, Balzer says. Frozen yogurt, as a carrier for fruit or other ingredients, also remains a trend.

Fresh fruit. Fruit will remain a trend for longer than the coming year, Balzer says. In fact, he adds, fruit is the second most popular item in the American diet. “If I were to put any money on anything I would say fresh fruit,” he says. “Fruit is not too far behind yogurt as the food of the decade.”

Workday grazing. Many millennials and others are working in nontraditional arrangements such as telecommuting. They want to go out for a bite to eat during any hour of the day. That has been a growing daypart in the quick-service space, says Annika Stensson, senior manager of research communications for the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. Now some full-service establishments are remaining open between lunch and dinner service, and offering appetizers and mocktails all day. “It’s an under-explored daypart for many restaurant operations, and more are looking at it,” she says.

Dedicated menus. For example, Arby’s Snack ‘n Save menu offers snacks only, in a quick-service setting. “Restaurants are more open to saying, 'Come in, have a snack, have an appetizer,'” Weikel says.

Sandwiches. The only food more popular than fruit is sandwiches, Balzer says. In snacking, few innovations have been as well received as snack wraps and snack-sized sandwiches. The smaller sizes appeal to consumers’ desire for one piece of chicken instead of three or six, Balzer says. New proteins and presentations will help sandwiches remain important snacks.

Artisan and local. These terms are on-trend in foodservice in general, and they will enter the snack world, Freeman says. Operators will offer their own packaged granola and other snacks made with local grains. Also spicy nuts, spicy chips and dip, and pickled items will be emerge.

Interesting presentations. Millennials and others also are looking for visually interesting snacks. Freeman says some operators are serving items in jars, such as spreads and crackers, and nuts.

Ethnic flavors. Instead of snack wraps with chicken, lettuce and tomato, think chicken with chimichurri sauce, pickles or carrots. “Ethnic flavors are really permeating beyond just ethnic menus,” Stensson says.

The key with any of these trends, Balzer says, is innovation. “Who’s going to think about it the way it has not been thought about before,” he says.