How many times do you snack on a daily basis? Are you typically grabbing for old standards like potato chips, or do you prefer apple chips? Do you gravitate toward a no-nonsense blend of mixed nuts, or do you reach for a more-indulgent trail mix that adds in candies like M&Ms? How important is the idea of “better-for-you” in your snacking routine?

Consumers address these questions daily, and their purchase habits—along with a measure of predictive analytics for the coming year—help shape the framework for this year’s “State of the Industry: Snacks” issue.

We have become a nation of snackers. “Snacking may be the new American pastime,” notes Mintel, Chicago, in its April 2015 “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes—U.S.” report. The report goes on to say that 94 percent of Americans snack daily. Even more telling, the report notes that half (50 percent) of all U.S. adults snack two to three times per day, with 70 percent suggesting that “anything” can be considered a snack.

Much time is spent these days trying to get inside the mind of millennials, perhaps the best generation of snackers. Millennial-focused findings from the Mintel report include:

  • Millennials are significantly more likely to snack compared to older consumers, with 24 percent snacking four or more times per day, and 23 percent snacking more this year compared to last year
  • Millennials are more likely to be emotional snackers, with 27 percent snacking because they are bored and 17 percent snacking because they are stressed
  • Millennials snack to stay focused throughout the day, with 39 percent snacking for energy

The frozen snacks and appetizers segment had a better year this time around—and some companies did quite well for the year. Nestlé provides comment in our analysis, noting that millennials are instrumental to the segment’s success. The company capitalized on the popularity of their Hot Pockets brand by adding a new Hot Pockets Bites line that performed well. Now Nestlé has built on that success with Hot Pockets Food Truck Bites, inspired by culinary-focused food truck culture.

The significant growth in ready-to-eat popcorn is also tied to resonance of the healthier, low-calorie version of the snacks with millennials. From a flavor perspective, the category continues to grow through innovation. We’ve started to see flavors migrate, with snack producers pulling flavor profiles from one salty snack segment to another, like from chips to popcorn. Clean-label is also a big deal in popcorn today, and it’s starting to influence development of highly innovative microwave popcorn products, particularly at Quinn Snacks.

Better-for-you is a unifying theme across all of food today, and it’s even showing up in pretzels. Unique Pretzel Bakery, our 2016 “Snack Producer of the Year,” provides some insight on this subject in our analysis of the pretzel segment. Unique Pretzel is a pioneer in bringing sprouted grains to this area of snacks.

Extruded snacks were also up again over the past year—with some companies growing well beyond the average. One such company is Calbee North America, maker of Harvest Snaps, which saw very healthy growth. This is a potentially lucrative area of the snack business today, worthy of attention. Stay tuned for our November issue later this year, where we will profile a leading manufacturer of better-for-you extruded snacks.

All of our 2016 State of the Industry coverage will culminate with our State of the Industry Webinar, taking place on August 17, with keynote presentations from top IRI snack and bakery analysts, as well as Robb Mackie, president and CEO, American Bakers Association, and Tom Dempsey, president and CEO, SNAC International. This is a must-attend web event for anyone in snack or bakery today.

Enjoy the balance of summer with family and friends, and snack well! Cheers!