Conagra’s Paul Hogan talks changing snacking trends amongst younger Canadians

Paul Hogan, VP and GM with Conagra Brands Canada, answers questions on Canadian snacking trends.
Tom Venetis
Associate Editor, Convenience Store News Canada + OCTANE
Tom Venetis head shot
Paul Hogan, vice-president and general manager, Conagra Brands Canada
Paul Hogan, vice-president and general manager, Conagra Brands Canada

After a successful fourth quarter and the unveiling of over 50 new products this summer across the company’s frozen grocery and snack divisions to meet changing consumer tastes and demands, Convenience Store News Canada (CSNC ) reached out to Paul Hogan, vice-president and general manager with Conagra Brands Canada to ask about the branded food company’s insights into the market and its direction going forward. Hogan was kind enough to write back to us with his answers.

Convenience Store News Canada (CSNC): You’ve recently put together a substantial amount of research into Canadians’ snacking habits. Tell us a bit about Conagra Brands’ scope. Who are you interviewing/surveying?

Paul Hogan (PH): Conagra focuses less on what is said and more on how consumers behave. We integrate consumption data with consumer sentiment to identify behaviours and trends within the marketplace, and leveraged IPSOS reports, particularly Winning with Tomorrow’s Consumer Todaygen Z ages 10 to 23 (Ipsos April 2022) and Canada Chats 2023 (December 2022), to help understand snacking trends in Canada and with younger generations.

CSNC: What are some of the most interesting takeaways from the research?

PH: Younger generations are driving the snack category as they consider snacks essential for a “successful get-together”, socializing two times more than other generational cohorts, especially in the summer months (IPSOS – Winning with Tomorrow’s Consumer Today—gen Z, April 2022); The number one snacking motivation is to “satisfy a craving”, with “wanting something spicy” driving the category (IPSOS—Canada Chats 2023, December 2022); On-the-go and portable snacks are increasingly important to consumers in the Summer as Canadians are out of the house more often (IPSOS—Canada Chats 2023, December 2022); and Canadians are trading in their meals for snacks, making those with nutritional value, such as high protein and fibre, more important than before (IPSOS—Canada Chats 2023, December 2022).

CSNC: One thing that was interesting—maybe not surprising to some—is that younger generations consider snacks essential for a successful get together. Did you find this surprising and how is this generation driving the snacking category?

PH: It’s not completely surprising, though definitely interesting, when you look at it from a marketing perspective. We know younger people engage in more social gatherings on average and snacks are a focal point when hosting or attending an event. What’s interesting is the opportunity this gives brands in terms of product innovation and marketing. Since the younger generation considers snacks “essential” for a successful get-together, products in the category have to be easy to share, serve and offer a fun experience. Marketing that plays on the social aspect is key and tailoring these efforts around notable social moments through the year typically plays well with younger generations.

CSNC: How has that influenced Conagra’s marketing strategy? How are you attracting these younger generations?

PH: We adapt our marketing strategies and product innovations based on both local and international data, with which we identify consumers’ behaviours and trends, with the constant objective to satisfy their demands and cravings. Attracting younger generations has involved new product innovations and marketing campaigns—many of which will be launching later this Summer.

CSNC: Your research also found that spicy snacks are also on the rise in popularity. Can you share numbers? How is your company responding to these shifting taste buds? How can c-store owners capitalize?

Boomchickapops sweet chilli puffs

PH: In response to the growing demand for spicy snacks, we’re launching Angie’s Boomchikapop Sweet Chili Puffs later this summer, along with a number of new product offerings across P.F. Chang’s Sauces, Bertolli Frozen Pasta Meals, Gardein Suprême and more. We’re continuously adapting our marketing approach and product offerings to meet our consumers’ shifting preferences. Further, we know consumers visit c-stores for on-the-go, convenient snacking options; therefore, offering new and unique products with spicy flavours that are easy to consume will be key.

CSNC: Another finding from your research is that more snacks are treated as “meal replacements”. How is that changing the way Conagra formulates its snacks? What does that mean for snacks? And can you speak about the consumers’ desire for better-for-you snacks and healthier foods? 

PH: This means snacks with nutritional value are becoming more important for the average consumer, which we take into consideration when developing new products. Our research tells us that “fresh snack” consumption decreased by four percent in 2022 from 2021 due to the rising price of these products (IPSOS—Canada Chats 2023, December 2022). This definitely gives an opportunity for healthier salty snacks that deliver on taste, like Angie’s Boomchikapop or Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn.

CSNC: In general, as an expert, what are your top insights on how Canadians’ needs, preferences and attitudes towards snacks are evolving and what does this mean for the food industry and c-stores?

PH: Canadians’ needs and preferences change based on a number of factors—one being seasonality. In the summer, we know Canadians tend to look for convenient, on-the-go snacks as they’re out of the home more often. As mentioned previously, snacks for social occasions rise in popularity due to higher rates of social events in warmer months. It’s important to know your audience and be agile when it comes to product innovation and marketing. In general, there’s a huge shift towards healthy snacks – and that means products with high nutritional value will remain king.

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