Not Just a Midnight Snack

February 23, 2015

Millennials snack all day, and are influencing how foodservice offers this fourth daypart

February- Not just a midnight snack

Millennials are known to be a tech-savvy group who value authenticity, consider themselves unique,and express themselves through social media. It turns out they also are driving the snacking trends.

Recent research indicates that Millennials — ages 18 to 34 — are snacking more than other age groups, and they are changing the definition of snacks. As a result, savvy operators are using this mini eating occasion as a way to boost business.

Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., says snacking is changing the way consumers eat, especially outside the home. “It is a cultural shift, especially as restaurants try to leverage it more,” she says. “We are calling snacking the fourth daypart.”

Weikel adds that there are two reasons Millennials are driving the snacking market. Millennials tend to use foodservice more in general than other age groups. Also, Millennials are likely to consider what they purchase to be a snack, not a meal.

“Younger consumers are still creating habits and preferences,” Weikel says. “They are broadening the definition of snack.” While Baby Boomers tend to snack on bags of pretzels or chips they buy at a supermarket, Millennials snack on smoothies, side orders and pizza they buy at restaurants or at their university or workplace cafeterias.

The older demographic is still important to the foodservice industry. Boomers have more money, are a large group and are eager to dine out after cooking at home for decades. Still, it’s the Facebook and Twitter posting Millennials who can create a buzz about a hybrid donut or tiny sandwich.

Also, Millennials are willing to pay more for snacks. That’s according to “Millennials and Baby Boomers: An Exploration of Around-the-Clock Snacking,” a study from Chicago-based Culinary Visions. The researchers surveyed Millennials and Boomers and found that Boomers wanted to pay less than $1, or $1 to $3, while Millennials are more willing to pay $3 to $5 for snacks.

Millennials also tend to buy snacks from establishments that are different from the places that older consumers purchase them. According to Technomic, 61 percent of Millennials buy snacks from fast-food burger restaurants, while only 52 percent of the 35-plus crowd buy snacks there. In addition, 43 percent of Millennials purchase snacks from cafes that specialize in coffee, while only 28 percent of older consumers buy them at such locations. Twenty-six percent of Millennials purchase a snack at bakery-cafe-style restaurants, while 18 percent of older customers buy a snack there. For fast-casual restaurants, 16 percent of Millennials buy snacks there, compared to 9 percent of the older consumers.

Even though these are small purchases, they have to satisfy Millennials’ expectations. “Overall they are looking for more options, and looking for things to customize to their liking,” says Rachel Tracy, managing director for Culinary Visions. “That scored really high on their radar. Healthful did, too.”

Culinary Visions found that for early morning snacks, fruit, yogurt, smoothies or a granola bar ranked among top choices for Millennials, while Baby Boomers ate bakery items, fruit, yogurt, and candy most often. As the day progresses, Millennials start eating salty snacks, and Baby Boomers do the same but also eat candy and nuts. Less popular mini sandwiches and mini meals were eaten more by Millennials than Baby Boomers.

Culinary Visions also found that Millennials tend to snack more than their Baby Boom counterparts after dinner 41.7 percent versus 34.8 percent. On the flip side, Millennials snack more before dinner than Baby Boomers — 22.0 percent versus 8.1 percent.

Foodservice is responding, some better than others. “All these operations, fast casual or c-stores are looking at how they can address this,” Tracy says. “They are adding snack menus and fresh items.”

Millennials are snacking more throughout the day, she says, often to replace a meal. Lunch and dinner visits were down, while breakfast and snacking were up. “This group is snacking more in lieu of purchasing lunch just because of the expense associated with it and also time constraints,” Riggs says. That could mean opportunity for foodservice. “If people could develop more snack-related items, they could grow their business with these folks.”

Millennials also are looking for creative selections. According to Datassential, Millennials are more interested in sweets, beverages, decadence/indulgent, multi-flavored foods and mashups. They want customizable foods and are not likely to want single flavors, non-unique dishes or seafood option.