Studies show that consumers are turning to snacks as meal substitutes. That means they don’t eat regular meals. Instead, they survive on snacks. The days of the three big meals seem to be coming to an end. What happened to a big breakfast, light lunch, and a large dinner?
The tradition has been the norm for hundreds of years. It seems that in the next few years, we’ll see it phased out completely. Not necessarily for the older generation. This trend is most prevalent among the younger generation.
Millennials and post-millennials don’t regard the need for three big meals a day as a priority. They find that eating smaller meals consisting of snacks is better for their bodies.
What is a snack?
To study this new trend and make some sense of it, we need to have a common understanding of what a snack is. It’s best to start with a brief history of the snack as we know it and its subsequent evolution.
The first foods defined as snacks were pretzels and popcorn. The invention of the potato chip eclipsed these two original snacks with ease. After that, candy took up its place in the snack category.
In these times, a snack was regarded as a way of satisfying a desire for sugar, salt, or fat. It was something you ate in between those three essential meals. Snacks were of low nutritional value. They were more like a treat than anything else. The snacking phenomenon grew between 1950 and 2000.
Snacks became more acceptable as part of the diet during the 1980s. Life had become more fast-paced. People needed to eat on the go. Pre-packaged snacks were ideal for them.
In recent years, some healthier foods have joined the ranks of the snack. Yogurt, energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, and zucchini chips are widely regarded today as snacks. The addition of these products to the snack category has changed its definition.
A snack can no longer be judged as unhealthy. Many snacks boast more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals than a lot of full meals.
Another way snack manufacturers distinguish a snack from a meal is the portion size. A meal contains about 400 calories. A snack contains 100-300 calories. The most sought-after snack size is 150-200 calories.
An alternative way to define a snack is to look beyond the size of the snack and the frequency with which it is eaten. We need to look at the purpose for which the snack is eaten. Is it eaten as a conventional snack to satisfy a craving? Is it being used to substitute a meal?
How is snacking replacing conventional meals?
It seems that snacking is not something you do between meals anymore. Your snacks are your meals. This has become popular because of the grab and go, takeout food, meal kits, Uber Eats lifestyle people live these days. All of these are replacing the meal as we know it.
People who want to eat snacks instead of meals don’t necessarily want unhealthy snacks. They look for nutrient-rich snacks that will give them an energy boost and satisfy their appetites. The dyed-in-the-wool snack companies have found themselves in competition with smaller producers who are meeting this demand.
It has caused these large corporations to review their position in the snack market. They are now diversifying their product ranges to incorporate a new kind of snack: a meal replacement snack.
The snacking lifestyle
Snacking has become a way of life for many young people today. Between their busy jobs and active social lives, cooking meals isn’t a priority. They don’t have the time.
They rely on takeout meals, ready meals, and meal kits. They might eat such a meal once or twice a day. For the rest of the day, they rely on snacks to keep themselves going.
Don’t mistake their snacking habits for unhealthy eating. Millennials and post-millennials are informed about snacks and which ones are healthy. They read the labels on the products they buy and avoid making a habit of eating unhealthy snacks.
Snacks that are rich in salt, fat, or sugar are not snacks they make a habit of consuming. That’s not to say they never eat chocolate or potato chips. It means that they try to keep their snacks healthy most of the time.
How often should you snack?
Millennials and post-millennials snack about four or five times a day. Most of them are substituting at least one meal a day with snacks. Others are doing it for two meals. They learn to listen to their bodies and understand when they’re due for a snack.
A lot of them do research and set up snack times with appropriate nutrients. For example, a snack rich in protein early in the afternoon gets you through the last few hours at the office.
A lot of habitual snackers will tell you that it’s not about how much you snack. It’s about when you snack and what you snack on.
The snack market explosion
The growing demand for snacks means that there is a lot more to choose from than there was in the 1980s. They are also more freely available. They’re available at grocery stores, convenience stores, vending machines, and pharmacies.
Many would argue that their increased availability has led to the snacking lifestyle, so many younger people pursue. While this is possible, there’s no point in analyzing where and when the snack revolution happened.
Manufacturers and retailers are looking forward. They aim to come up with more snacks that will satisfy the needs of their youthful consumers.
One of the strategies they’ve deployed is making it easier to buy snacks in bulk. They can be kept at home and packed for work. It keeps the snacker out of the shop where the temptation to give in to unhealthy snacks can be overwhelming.
Given the tendency of habits to be passed from one generation to another, it’s clear that snacking is here to stay. Millennials and post-millennials will continue to use snacks to replace meals and so will their children. The best thing suppliers can do is keep up with the demand for the supply of unique, healthy snacks.