From changes made to grocery shopping, eating out and cooking at home, we're all familiar by now with the wide web of altered behaviors driven by the pandemic. One of the lesser-known changes occurred in one of our favorite cultural pastimes — snacking.

While past Hartman Group reporting on our reasons for snacking identified three behavioral pillars of influence (nourishment, optimization and pleasure), our Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted report found that 40% of all snacking reflects some need for distraction, thus its addition as a fourth pillar in the research. 

The report observes that while snacking for distraction has always been present for consumers and is regularly viewed as a problematic, less intentional approach to snacking, this driver took on more significance in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An article published by the Specialty Food Association on examines the topic of snacking during the pandemic and includes commentary from Hartman Group Senior Vice President Shelley Balanko. Per the article:

“During the pandemic, Americans spent more time at home than ever before. For some, that meant greater access to fresher and healthier snacks. For others, close proximity to their kitchen made it easier to snack more frequently and on foods that they’d tried to avoid in the past, according to Shelley Balanko, senior vice president at The Hartman Group. “Some were overindulging, and then snacking more healthfully, and vacillating back and forth,” she says. 

The Hartman Group’s three snack-driving pillars included snacking for nourishment, optimization, and pleasure. “Salty snacks often fall under pleasure and snacks as a reward,” Balanko says. But snacking for the purpose of distraction became so prevalent during the pandemic that The Hartman Group added it as a fourth pillar. “Distraction became such a significant area in 2020 that there was an 8-percentage point increase between 2019 and 2020 in snacking driven by the need for distraction from boredom, stress, or anxiety.”

Our Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted report finds that the pandemic has disrupted aspects of consumers’ typical eating patterns and contexts significantly, and many have grown accustomed to new routines. 

The report predicts that while snacking behaviors may eventually return to the pre-pandemic “normal,” changes brought about by COVID-19 may last into the future. 

Consequently, in the short term, companies and brands should anticipate a continuation of at-home snack times that are more likely to be shared with others and involve characteristics of boredom or anxiety.

More information: