It’s not like people were short on snack attacks before the COVID-19 pandemic; in fact, the snacking category was already on the rise prior to the pandemic. But now, the “fourth daypart” — as snacks have become known to convenience stores — is an even bigger focus, tightly woven into the altered fabric of consumers’ daily lives.
“The pandemic has accelerated snack food consumption, in large part [due] to the overnight shift in eating behaviour, primarily at home, that occurred during the pandemic,” said Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group in Minneapolis, a retail and consumer goods business consulting firm. During the pandemic, it became clear that consumers turn to snacking to reduce stress and find comfort, he added.
As consumer routines have changed, the dayparts are not as defined as before the pandemic, so the opportunity for snacking has become even more prevalent, noted Alyssa Barrett, customer marketing manager, convenience, for the foodservice division at Rich Products in Buffalo, N.Y. “A mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up, in between meals or even a late-night bite, are all occasions that c-store operators can leverage by offering snack items all day long,” she said.
To promote all-day snacking, c-stores are running advertising at the pump, through apps and via loyalty programs, Barrett observed. “They’re creating bundled offerings to entice customers, like a free bakery item with the purchase of a cup of coffee,” she said.
Virtually any food can be a snack, and snacking can occur at almost any time — it’s the all-day daypart, Datassential reported in its Snacking Keynote Report, which also revealed that 96% of consumers had at least one snack in the past day, with most averaging between three and four snack foods throughout the day.
According to experts, snacks with the most consumer appeal right now are:
Whole food based
Diet endorsed, such as gluten free, keto, paleo, vegan, etc.
Transparent, derived from clean ingredients/recognizable ingredients
Safely packaged/individually wrapped
Hybrid, in both flavour combination (i.e., salty-sweet) and in form (cake cookies, muffin cake, dessert candy, etc.)
Healthier, with a side of immunity
In the drugstore channel, a recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of CVS Pharmacy found that two-thirds of American adults (66%) are snacking at home more, and nearly three in five (59%) are choosing better-for-you snacks and meal solutions more often than they would have prior to the pandemic. More than two-thirds (70%) said they wished it were easier to find better-for-you food options while on the go.
Industry experts believe a focus on healthier snacks could work well in the convenience channel, too, particularly when targeting the younger generations.
Amy Shapiro, founder and director of Real Nutrition, a private practice in New York City dedicated to overall wellness, points out that today’s trends show that people are more interested now in their immunity and in staying healthy. “So, I think snacking will remain, but the focus will change, along with the frequency, as we start spending less time at home,” she told Convenience Store News, our sister publication in the U.S.
In addition to an immunity-boosting focus, Shapiro advises c-store operators to follow the functional food, stress management and weight management trends when choosing snack-food items for their stores. “These items should be readily available to all income levels, especially now that the weight management category also extends to products targeted toward kids,” she said. “Studies show that obesity rates have risen further with the pandemic. It’s now more important than ever to make sure kids eat more fruits and vegetables as snacks and snack ingredients.”
Chicago-based Label Insight, which partners with retailers and suppliers to improve product information and transparency, recently released some specific snack trends centred on health and flavour, which convenience stores should consider:
Low-calorie and plant-based snack bars are growing in popularity. Snack bar searches for flavour profiles around “peanut ingredients/flavours” and “vanilla ingredients/flavours” are also growing.
Easy-to-grab and -consume snack bars continue to trend high, with searches for healthier/cleaner options such as vegan and dairy free on the rise.
Protein bar options that qualify as “ketogenic,” “sport” or “raw” are steadily emerging. They have high consumer search volume, especially nutritional and post-workout bars, reported Tim Whiting, vice president of marketing at Label Insight.
Dried fruit like raisins, apricots and cranberries are trending in consumer searches, probably due to the high level of antioxidants they offer, said Whiting.
Veggie chips, veggie straws, kale chips and seaweed chips have shown good growth over the past two quarters, according to Label Insight data.
Beverages sweetened with sugar alternatives like stevia or monk fruit, or beverages that are free from all sweeteners, are worthy of c-store attention. High-sugar beverages are an area of concern for health-conscious shoppers.