The Changing Snacking Landscape: What’s Driving Consumer Snacking Behaviors and Choices?

The Changing Snacking Landscape: What’s Driving Consumer Snacking Behaviors and Choices?

May 14, 2014

There is no question that snacking has become a way of life in our on-the-go society, but just what is considered a snack in the mind of the consumer, and what are they snacking on? Kate Thomson, Director of Insights for Sterling-Rice Group, and Molly Spence, Regional Director, North America for the Almond Board of California, presented a webinar for RDBA members on April 24 that explored the evolution of the snacking landscape (view archived webinar in Member’s Area of They identified three major trends shaping consumers’ attitudes and beliefs about snacking, based upon recent national consumer surveys.1-3  

  • Trend One: More Snacks, More Often

Snacking has become nearly universal behavior –  in fact 97% of Americans are snacking at least once a day[1], and the proportion of consumers reporting that they eat three to four snacks a day nearly doubled from 24% in 2009 to 43% in 2012.[2]

  • Trend Two: Blurred Lines between Meals and Snacks

Led by the ubiquitous Millennials, smaller bites and on-the-go eating, the lines are blurring between what’s a snack and what’s a meal, even at the previously sacred dinner occasion.

  • Trend Three: Protein, Please

Consumers are increasingly aware of the benefits of protein, and are willing to pay a premium for protein-rich products.  They are making the connection between protein and satiety, and 30% of consumers report usually or always choosing foods because they are high in protein.[3]

 Thomson also presented findings from a recent survey of more than 2,000 North American consumers that provided additional insights as to how and why people are snacking.[4]

  • How do consumers define a snack?

The type of amount of food is what makes a snack a snack – more so than the time of day. About half of snacks are planned versus opportunistic, and planned snacks tend more be more nutritious than impulse choices. Overall attitudes toward snacking are very positive – 94% of consumers agreed that snacking can be a part of a healthy diet. 

  • When are people snacking?

Respondents reported an average of 2.3 snacks per day, echoing the results of other recent surveys. 3:00 pm was reported as the most likely time to consume a snack overall.

  • What are people looking for in their snacks, and what are they actually snacking on?

Perhaps not surprisingly, taste trumps health when choosing a snack. When it comes to “healthy” snacks specifically, protein, fiber and “natural” rise to the top as the most important considerations, while the most commonly cited attributes to avoid in snacks were trans fats, highly processed foods, and high fructose corn syrup.

Although consumers state that they are looking for snacks that are filling and satisfying, the most common snack choice was coffee drinks, followed by bread, milk and cheese.  Almonds were reported as the nut chosen most often as a snack, and were rated by consumer attribute ratings as the most heart-healthy[5], nutritious, and best nut for weight management. 

Spence noted the Almond Board has also recently published clinical studies investigating the relationship between snacking on almonds and weight management,[6] as well as the recent explosion of new almond products on the market. While just ten years ago, almonds were primarily just found in bulk bins and the baking section, today they are in numerous aisles and product categories – from seasoned snack almonds to almond-based crackers and a proliferation of almond milk.  She highlighted the Almond Board’s Recipe Center as a great resource for retail RDs with fresh ideas on how to use almonds in all forms. For more information on almond nutrition research, almond tins, and printable teaching tools, visit

[1] Piernas C, Popkin BM. J Nutr 2010; 140: 325-332.

[2] IRI – State of the Snacking Industry Report, 2013

[3] Innova Marketing Insights – Snacks Revolution 2013

[4] Sterling-Rice Group; online survey of 2,012 adult North American consumers, fielded Nov 4-12, 2013

[5] Scientific evidence suggest, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 oz. of almonds per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.  One serving of almonds (28 g) has 13 g of unsaturated fat and 1 g of saturated fat.

[6] Tan YT, Mattes RD. Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomised, controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr2013;67:1205-14.