Snacking Opportunities Vary by Daypart

May 12, 2022

Consumers more likely to seek treats, rewards as the day progresses

Snacking has over the past several years become increasingly important to consumers who are taking a more mindful approach to their noshing. Consumers are often seeking specific goals in the restaurant snack market, whether they relate to nourishment, rewards or simply a break from the routine.

The pandemic had a significant influence on snacking habits, as more consumers tended to snack at home, rather than at work or during their commutes, and snack sales at restaurants suffered. Now that many consumers have resumed their pre-pandemic work routines to some degree, restaurants have an opportunity to recapture some share of the restaurant snack market.

Offering the right snacks at the right time of day could play an important role in operators’ strategy to recapture snack sales, particularly during the morning daypart.

Research from The NPD Group found that in the three months ending last November, online and physical visits to restaurants during the morning snack period between breakfast and lunch were down about 1% compared with pre-pandemic levels, although they had risen compared with the steep declines of 2020.

Traffic during the afternoon snack period at restaurants, meanwhile, fared better, perhaps as consumers who were working from home, or overseeing kids home from school, stepped out for a break.

Differences by daypart

How can restaurants better position their snack menu marketing offerings to capture snack sales in this evolving environment? One clue may be to look at how overall consumer preferences for snacks change throughout the day.

“The reasons why people snack change as the day progresses,” says Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at The NPD Group.

Consumer routines and the need for fast service have historically been prime drivers of snack sales in the morning dayparts, he says. In addition, mornings are typically when consumers are thinking more about their health and nutrition goals.

“They want something nutritious,” Seifer says. “It’s functional and it gives them a pick-me-up to get them going in the morning.”

Products such as fruit, energy drinks, protein shakes and breakfast cookies are popular for morning snacks, he says. Breakfast cookies in particular, he says, are interesting as breakfast snacks because they give consumers a feeling of indulgence without overdoing it. “That’s an overarching theme within snacking these days,” Seifer says.

Snacks with seasonal flavors

Smoothies, another morning snack menu idea for restaurant operators, lend themselves to seasonal flavors. As summer approaches, operators can incorporate popular botanical and fruit flavors into these hand-held snacks that also serve as meal replacements or refreshing treats, especially during warmer months.

Among botanical flavors, elderflower has been growing in popularity, according to Beck Flavors’ 2022 Flavor of the Year report. The report notes that elderflower is often used as a background note to other flavors, such as honey, apple, pear, blackberry, strawberry, passion fruit and citrus.

The report also noted that 55% of new beverage product launches in the last two years have included a botanical flavor.

Drive-thru coffee chain Dutch Bros Coffee recently rolled out a beverage item that contains elderflower and also checks all the boxes for today’s snackers. The Daydream Rebel includes Rebel energy drink with passion fruit and elderflower, crowned with frothy Soft Top.

The fast-casual, health-focused restaurant chain Lemonade also features elderflower in one of its beverages. Its Lavender Elderflower Lemonade is made with fresh lemon juice, blue butterfly tea, lavender syrup, elderflower syrup and pure cane sugar.

Late-day treats

Consumers considering the restaurant snack market become less and less motivated by health concerns throughout the day, Seifer says.

“What really changes as the day progresses is how much a desire to satisfy a craving increases as the day goes on,” he says. “By the time we get to the evening, it's more about treating and rewarding, and people will tend to eat things like ice cream and baked goods.”

The 2021 Datassential Dessert Keynote report confirms this, finding that dessert foods such as ice cream are more typically eaten as snacks later in the day. For example, 28% of consumers said the most recent dessert item they consumed was as a late-night snack, 20% said it was an afternoon snack and only 7% said it was a morning snack. This may indicate an opportunity for operators to expand dessert offerings into the morning daypart, the report concluded.

Operators should think about trending flavors such as tropical fruits that can be incorporated into portable, dessert-type snacks suitable for consumers on the go. These types of items could be attractive to both morning snackers and those looking for treats later in the day.

Dragon fruit, or pitaya, is one example of an emerging fruit flavor that is turning up as an ingredient in a variety of applications, including bowls and smoothies. It is found on 1.5% of U.S. menus and has increased menu penetration 124% in the last four years, according to Datassential.

One example is the Pitaya Bowl from The Original Chop Shop. It features pitaya blended with apple juice, pineapple and banana, and topped with granola, kiwi, banana, shredded coconut and agave syrup.

Other snack items in the restaurant snack market that function more as treats but tout on-trend flavors, such as breakfast cereal and passion fruit, include the newly introduced Fruity Crunch Cake Pop from Ziggi’s Coffee, a cake pop topped with fruity cereal. Another is Brooke Williamson’s Dark Chocolate Passion Fruit Cupcake from Sprinkles, a bakery chain. The chocolate cupcake, named after the Bravo TV Top Chef winner, is filled with passion fruit curd and topped with dark chocolate frosting.

Consumers are seeking snacks that satisfy various needs throughout the day. As they resume their pre-pandemic routines, they will look for morning items they can eat on the go as well as rewarding items they can consume at any time of day.

For more information about snack menu ideas and dessert menus that meet the demands of today’s consumers, visit Mondelēz International.

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