Just because Americans have a love affair with snacking doesn’t mean they’ve ditched three squares a day. That’s the conclusion industry watchers at The NPD Group arrived at based on monitoring daily eating and snacking behaviors.
About a third of meal occasions consist of between-meal snacking, but Americans cling to the traditional breakfast/lunch/dinner pattern, NPD reports. Many of our daily routines revolve around meals—from going to work or school after breakfast, taking a midday break for lunch, to enjoying dinner back at home with family or out with friends in the evening. “This conditioning begins at a young age when kids are held the closest to the standard three meals per day by their parents,” NPD notes.
We might be sticking to a regular meal schedule, but the number of dishes and ingredients that turn up during those meals is shrinking, thanks in part to snacking. And snacks are often a component of those meals.
Another study, by consultants at The Hartman Group, finds that snacking has become an all-day affair, often blurring the lines between what defines a snack and what qualifies as a meal. “Dinner remains an important social meal occasion,” Hartman says, but often it represents “a mere pause between other activities.” Breakfast and lunch are routinely incorporated into activities like commuting or business meetings.
According to Hartman, 90 percent of consumers snack multiple times throughout the day. But only 7 percent consume all their calories in the form of snacks. Some 80 percent of snacking is done to fulfill a physical, emotional, social or cultural desire, while 20 percent is aimless, driven by the availability of food. (P.S. that last figure seems a tad low to us.)
Key trends in snacking right now, according to Hartman Group, include fresh, less processed, sustained energy, going global and flexible formats.
“There is a lot of buzz about snacking these days,” says Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst and author of NPD’s "Snacking in America" report. “While those headlines are eye-grabbing and give people something to talk about, it’s important to read past them and dig into the details. The opportunities are uncovered by the details and not the headlines.”
Or, as Hartman Group puts it, “Our eating is more fluid overall, as consumers eat whenever and however they want.”
The takeaway for restaurants: Be ready to accommodate a variety of dayparts and appetites.