Snack American Style

Published in CSP Daily News

More consumers turning to healthy options, but growth still strong

NEW YORK -- American consumers are gradually becoming more health-conscious when it comes to snacking. That's the conclusion of recent research conducted by Morgan Stanley to help it weigh the stock futures of major snack makers.

According to the investment firm's survey of 2,500 consumers older than 18, 19% of respondents were health-driven snackers, up 4 percentage points from the previous year. Meanwhile, the bulk of respondents (58%) said they were balancers, that is, they allow themselves to eat less-healthy snacks in moderation. That group grew 2 [image-nocss] percentage points from 2003. All that growth came at the expense of the carefree snackers category; 23% of respondents were in that category this year, compared to 29% a year ago.

The majority of consumers continue to see themselves as balancers, states a report from the New York City-based company. Although these consumers snack slightly less often, they still eat snacks regularly and drive the majority of volume of core salty categories.

The report concludes, however, that healthier snacks are a growth opportunity. About 40% of consumers are willing to pay more for healthier snacks that taste good. But, 28% say that most healthy snacks don't taste very good, the report said. Truly health-driven people are even more willing to pay a premium and tend to be a little more satisfied with the taste of healthy snacks.

The most-eaten snacks among consumers in the health-driven and balancer categories are nuts, popcorn and granola/snack bars. For carefree snackers, the leading choices are potato chips, popcorn and nuts. Health-driven snackers and balancers snack between six and seven times per week, while carefree snackers find themselves noshing close to eight times a week.

Overall, the report said, there's no reason to expect a decline in snacking anytime soon in the United States. The need for convenience and consumer affinity for snacks should continue to drive total snack-category growth ahead of population growth and other food categories.