CHICAGO — Nearly half of consumers eat three or more snacks a day, driving continued momentum across the top snack segments, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader at Information Resources, Inc.

Sales of snacks in the United States grew 3.4% last year, with salty snacks up 3.6%, snack and granola bars up 5.1%, chocolate candy up 3% and non-chocolate candy up 3.6%.

Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader at Information Resources, Inc.

“When you look at snacking, it’s evolved,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. “It used to be about something in the afternoon, but snacking is pervasive around the day and it’s serving different roles. It could be all about hunger satisfaction, it could be a tide-me-over, about meeting daily nutritional goals or even providing fuel and energy.”

New products on display from more than 750 companies at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 24-26 in Chicago, underscore the evolution of snacking.

“What have we seen as emerging? Real food is resonating right now because consumers are looking for transparency,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “We’ve also seen co-branding. Co-branding is big because it allows you to extend your brand into new categories you haven’t been in before and/or play in some new domains.”

Global influences and spicy-tangy flavor combinations are also emerging trends she noted.

“Snacking is still pervasive,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “When we run our models on how the U.S. is going to look over the next five years, I’m here to tell you there’s strong growth. There’s over $35 billion of growth to be happening over the next few years. You can have a piece of that.”

Households with children are driving growth in the snack market, she said.

“Make sure to have products that are going to appeal to households with kids, and make sure you provide different healthy options as well as permissible indulgence that moms and dads alike will be happy to let them consume,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “Remember they’re looking for balance. Treating is not bad.”

Plant-based protein and superfood ingredients abound in recent snack innovation, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

“In 2015, we saw a lot of lentils, chia and quinoa going into different forms and different flavors across the industry, hitting over $1 million and grabbing that share of wallet as well as that share of stomach,” she said. “There are a lot of benefits to having snack foods with plant-based protein, and that has resonated with consumers.”

Value and convenience are important drivers of snack purchases, but for 92% of consumers, taste is paramount, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

“Different flavor combinations are very much in vogue,” she said. “Eighty-eight per cent of consumers are looking for flavors they like.”

Click for a slideshow of new products showcased at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.