The Graze Craze

Blurring of day-parts gives retailers new opportunities for grabbing that grab-and-go consumer.

By
Erik J. Martin, CSP Correspondent

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Snacking will spoil your appetite, Mom used to warn us. Today, however, Mom usually isn’t around to cook up a meal, Dad is putting in extra hours at work and the kids are more overscheduled than ever.

The result? Americans have a major case of the munchies as they struggle to multitask and fi t in food breaks. Enter the age of grab-and-go grazing, when snacks often stave off between-meal hunger pangs or serve as a full-on substitute for a sit-down breakfast, lunch or dinner. Only nowadays, quick-fi x edibles aren’t limited strictly to salty, sweet or sinful categories. The snacks consumers eat with increasing frequency range widely and often provide greater nutritional value than the indulgences of just a few years ago.

So the battle for the belly is now not only along traditional day-parts, but the gaps as well: the 11 a.m. early stomach growl, the 2:30 p.m. grazing and the postdinner delight.

Strength in Numbers

The rise in munch isn’t just a hunch; it can be quantified and substantiated by the latest data. Consider, for example, that one out of every fi ve eating occasions today is a snack, and 53% of consumers are snacking more than once a day, according to Port Washington, N.Y.-based The NPD Group’s 2012 report “Snacking in America.”

In fact, the proportion of consumers who eat multiple snacks a day almost doubled from 2010 to 2012, according to a report by Chicago-based Technomic Inc. published in 2012.

That report also reveals snack consumption is relatively high throughout the day, peaking in the midafternoon, when 73% of consumers indulge in snacks (up from 68% reported in 2010) vs. 39% at midmorning (up from 30% in 2010), 39% midevening, and 40% late at night. (See chart on p. 6.) These increases may be due to the greater variety and availability of snacking foods offered at c-stores and quick-serve restaurants (QSRs), especially during the morning hours.

More frequent snack consumption is primarily seen among younger consumers, the Technomic study reveals: Fortytwo percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are snacking more often vs. an overall average of 28%. (See chart, p. 8.) However, this group is also slightly more likely than other age groups to indicate a decrease in snack consumption (20% vs. 18% across generations), confi rming that millennials lead very fluid lifestyles.

Data released in February from Chicago-based IRI’s AllScan shows that 10 out of the top 25 c-store categories are snacking-related, with salty snacks topping a list that most often includes chocolate candy, nonchocolate candy, pastries/doughnuts, meat snacks, nuts and seeds, and snack bars. And nearly 60% of snacks are purchased on impulse, based on results of the 2011 OBM Eating Survey by The Hartman Group, Seattle.

Snacks and Snackers Redefined

In the past, consumers were more structured in abiding by the three-squaremeals-a-day schedule, and snacking had a negative perception linked to mindless munching and consuming empty calories, says Kelly Fulford, senior category development manager for Minneapolisbased General Mills Convenience. But with today’s busy lifestyles, snacking has emerged as a way to balance food intake and regulate energy levels and cravings throughout the day.

“Snacks are so important that they have become our fourth meal,” says Fulford, who cites data from the aforementioned OBM Eating Survey indicating that the average person consumes more than two snacks a day. “Consumers use snacks differently today, from something to tide them over between meals to a meal replacement or a side.”

Indeed, 58% of snack foods are eaten as a snack, while 42% are consumed as a meal or side, based on 2011 data from NPD.

In 2013, a snack may mean a small indulgence or treat, a cleansing break from a hectic day or a way to sustain your body when you’re hungry, says Kevin Higar, director of research and consulting for Technomic. Consumers increasingly define snacks by the time of day an item is consumed and its preparation time, although many consumers continue to determine snacks according to the type of food or beverage. (See chart, p. 8.) While 63% of consumers indicate that their definition of “snack” didn’t change from 2010 to 2012, 40% have broadened their definition to include more types of foods and beverages, per 2012 data from Technomic. “Snacking definitely has evolved. It isn’t about adding another meal to the day but acknowledging that the traditional definition of meal time is evolving,” says Jeff Lenard, NACS’ vice president of industry advocacy. “The definition of a snack has greatly expanded from the traditional candy bar or bag of chips to a wider assortment of foods. Just look at how alternative snacks like beef jerky and healthy snacks like fruit continue to grow in popularity.”

Ask Bill Nolan, vice president of marketing for Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express, and he’ll tell you that snacking today means “conveniently satisfying midday cravings.”

“With conventional meals, you go from hungry to full, then potentially lethargic,” he says. “Snacking provides a more consistent energy level throughout the day without stopping for that hourlong meal break.”

Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD, says it’s actually the role, not the meaning, of snacking that has changed most significantly in recent years. “To today’s consumers,” Seifer says, “snacking isn’t just an indulgent behavior dominated by cravings; it’s an important part of their daily diet.”

And this is where opportunity—and risk—arises for convenience operators. Attune to the vacillations of a worker’s day and you can create a nice profit opportunity. In other words, are you setting your store to showcase snacking alternatives for different points of the day?

“Increased snacking habits are driven by a busy schedule and convenience opportunities,” says Higar of Technomic. “These people often have 100 different things going on in their lives and may not get the full meal they want, so they stop at a convenience store to grab something quick at a lower price point.”

Day-Parts Departing?

The lines between meals and snacking have become blurred to the point where there is no such thing as “traditional meals,” Fulford says. Many people nowadays consume smaller meals and portions throughout the day. Also, snacking has become more prevalent because it fulfills many functional and emotional needs, including portability, energy, health, hunger abatement, sweet indulgence and taste.

“This should matter a great deal to operators because the convenience and selection of products within the c-store aligns very well with between-meal snacking occasions,” says Fulford. “It’s the perfect place to grab a snack.”

Pervez Pir, chief operating officer for Vintners Distributors in Fremont, Calif., says snacking doesn’t conform to any particular day-parts because it tends to occur throughout the day. “Many consumers are missing a sit-down meal and are grabbing a meal replacement or something to tide them over,” he says.

Traditional day-parts are still important, however, because they “provide a reference point for where consumers feel they should be having a meal,” Higar says.

Although snacking has become more popular for fill-in eating, c-stores continue to be a destination for quick, portablemeals, particularly around lunchtime.

“Day-part meals do matter to c-stores because consumers see us as an alternative to QSRs. That’s why you see so many c-stores getting into the hot food business,” says Nolan.

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