Is the growing popularity of weight-loss drugs taking a bite out of snack food sales? No – at least not yet – say food marketing experts and grocers in Canada.
“It’s not a stretch to think a rise in the use of these drugs would impact people’s consumption of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar,” says Jordan LeBel, a food marketing professor at Concordia University in Montreal. “But there’s no evidence-based research that suggests that’s happening.”
The issue made headlines in early October when, in an interview with Bloomberg, Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner suggested the retailer had seen a “slight change” in food purchasing habits of people taking weight loss and diabetes drugs such as Wegovy and Ozempic, compared to those who don’t.
His remarks came on the heels of a research note by Morgan Stanley that suggests an estimated 24 million Americans – or 7% of that country’s population – will be using hunger-suppressing drugs by 2035. The note said this could lead to “softer demand” for unhealthier foods and high-fat sweet and salty snacks.
LeBel, however, is skeptical that weightloss drugs are starving snack food sales. He pointed to strong sales figures being posted by Hershey’s and Nestlé, which reported double-digit growth in its confectionery brands in mid-October.
“Demand is not down,” says LeBel, whose research focuses on the role that pleasure plays in people’s food choices. “But people are eating differently.” He says the pandemic upended traditional workplace and social behaviours related to noshing. “If you work from home now you may no longer need those predetermined office snacks.”
He says everyday eating rituals like late-night snacks, end-of-day comfort foods and even chicken wings and nachos on game day have also been affected by various trends and societal factors.
They include inflation, supply chain disruptions and the vast array of both decadent and healthier sweet and sugary snack food options that now compete for share of stomach on store shelves.
For his part, Winnipeg grocer Kevin Schmidt says demand for snack foods remains strong at his store. “I haven’t seen any big changes in sales,” says Schmidt, who owns and operates Downtown Family Foods. “If anything, they’re up from last year.”
Alain Royer, who owns a small store near the Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort, a half-hour drive northeast of Quebec City, says he’s selling record amounts of chips, peanuts, mints and candies – though sales of gum and chocolates are down. “It might be different elsewhere,” says Royer, “but weight-loss drugs haven’t had any impact on our business.”
This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s November 2023 issue.