Studies show uptick in consumer demand for snacks, particularly healthy ones.

NEW YORK — Americans love their snacks.

According to “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes U.S. 2015” from market research firm Mintel, nearly all Americans (94%) snack at least once a day. Fifty per cent of adults said they snack two to three times per day with 70% saying that anything can be considered a snack these days. By comparison, a study released last fall by Mintel indicated only 64% of consumers said they often snacked between meals.

The types of snacks consumers are looking for is changing. Thirty-three per cent of those surveyed by Mintel said they are looking for a healthier snack than they did a year ago. Specifically, consumers are interested in products featuring clean labels and low calorie counts, but the majority (62%) still enjoys snacks for their ability to satisfy a craving, with 63% saying they value the taste of salty snacks more than their nutritional makeup.

Millennial snackers

Mintel found that millennials (consumers age 21-38) are significantly more likely to snack than older consumers, with 24% of millennials saying they are likely to snack four or more times per day, and 23% snacking more this year compared to last year. When compared to other generations, millennial consumers are more likely to be emotional or functional snackers, according to Mintel. Nearly a third (27%) of those surveyed by Mintel said they snack because they are bored and 17% snack because they are stressed. Mintel research also shows that the millennial generation snacks for function and to stay focused throughout the day, with 39% snacking for energy.

Mintel found that millennials are significantly more likely to snack than older consumers.

“Our research shows that millennials are more likely to snack compared to older generations as a means to fulfill emotional and functional needs, including combating boredom or stress and increasing energy and focus,” said Amanda Topper, food analyst at Mintel. “Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats. Millennials are also more likely than older generations to indicate snacks with added nutrition and flavor variety are important to them. As a result they may be drawn to products with high fiber, energizing claims or protein content to stay satiated, as well as bold flavors to help add variety to their frequent snacking occasions and eliminate boredom.”

Meanwhile, 68% of iGeneration/millennials (consumers age 18-38) are most likely to try a snack that has been recommended to them, and 43% are most likely to go out of their way to buy snacks from a specific store. Specifically, Mintel found that iGen/millennials are drawn to organic snacks and products with added nutrition, including protein and vitamins.

Balancing health and indulgence

Mintel said its research in recent years has pointed toward a trend toward healthier snacking. In 2008-09, 25% of adults claimed to snack only on healthy foods, a percentage that climbed to 29% in 2013-14 and to 33% in 2014-15. Slightly more than a third of Americans said they are limiting their intake of sweet snacks, such as cookies, candy and ice cream.

Americans are becoming more health-conscious about their snacks.

Healthier snacking also is trickling down from parents to children. Approximately 30% of parents said they are serving healthier snacks to their children, including 33% of millennial parents, but indications are more work needs to be done. According to Mintel, 42% of households with children agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or resealable packages. Mintel’s research shows that convenience is one of the most important factors when selecting a snack as 77% of snackers prefer ready-to-eat snacks over those that have to be prepared.

“With a third of consumers saying they are snacking on healthier options more often this year compared to last year, there will be an increasing need for better-for-you snacks, in smaller portions and convenient formats,” Ms. Topper said. “This addresses consumers’ desire to balance both health and indulgence. Mintel data shows that consumers, especially households with children, agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or resealable packages. This highlights a need for balance between convenience and affordability, knowing the importance many consumers, especially younger consumers, place on affordable snacks.”