Cute little girl eating snack

How Americans eat is a fascinating topic and highly reflective of a changing food culture, one key part of which has been our changing views and behaviors in relation to snacks and snacking: we’ve been studying the topic of eating and snacking since the 1990s and over this period have documented rapid growth and evolution in the nature of what, how, and where we snack. Our Future of Snacking 2016 report highlighted the confluence of several shifts in lifestyle, eating culture, and food values that led to what we called a “Culture of Snacking.” Specifically, these shifts entailed:

The upending of traditional, daily food rituals: Eating patterns/times were disrupted by time pressures and competing commitments. A decline in meal planning and cooking skills (even as appreciation for food and love of eating increased). Democratization of food planning, shopping, and cooking.

Changing wellness and culinary trends: Elevated desires for food and beverage to support nutrition and deliver targeted functionality. Emphasis on pleasure and exploration as preferences around taste and texture broaden and globalize. Reevaluation of size, frequency, and choices for foods and beverages.

Growing accessibility to food and food types: Access to food anywhere and everywhere, allowing constant consumption (and requiring greater restraint). Diversity of food types and new brands suggest a plethora of options from which to experiment.

The Evolution of Snack Foods & Beverages

Future of Snacking 2016 report, The Hartman Group, Inc. (click to enlarge)

THG - The evolution of snack food infographic

Future of Snacking 2016 was groundbreaking in that we identified that snacks (and snacking behavior) were able to address consumer needs in ways that traditional meals often cannot and reflected changes in eating behavior that tend to be individualized and not shared. We described how traditional eating patterns built around three “square,” structured meals a day had given way to frequent snacking that occurs throughout the day: Future of Snacking 2016 found that with 91% of consumers snacking multiple times throughout the day, snacking was essential to daily eating for most Americans and accounted for 50% of all eating occasions.

New Snacking 2020 Study Launched to Study Effects of Pandemic

Of course, that was how we ate in 2016, and like nearly every aspect of our lives, COVID-19 has had its own effects on snacking. For example, leading up to 2020, Americans were increasingly on the go, with nutrition and portability key considerations in snacking. The tumultuous events of 2020, however, have disrupted consumers’ lives, with many now working or learning from home, thus dramatically changing the consumer contexts in which snacking (and eating in general) take place.

To assess how snacking has changed, we’ve launched a new Snacking 2020 study, aspects of which were discussed in a recent podcast (Snacking 2020: New Study Launches) that provided both background and specific areas of research. Key points discussed in the podcast included how with more consumers eating at home there’s been an increase in snacking in the morning, eating snacks with others (as opposed to alone), as well as a shift in snack procurement pathways with a resulting rise in online sourcing. Danielle Kleiner-Kanter, a consultant with Hartman Retainer Services, notes in the podcast:

“It will be really interesting to hear from consumers about their current snacking approaches and tensions that they're facing. Lately we've been surrounded by a lot of information telling us how the world is very different than before, but there are some notable highlights from our 2016 study that are still quite relevant to how consumers are snacking today (even if some of those details have shifted). … Immunity has become a big focus in how people are approaching their health these days, and we do hypothesize that will show up in this year's research. And even though more snacking occasions are taking place at home, people are still busy — so products that work for multiple occasions, or can be customized, will still speak to relevant needs.”

To Learn More About Snacking 2020:

THG - Snacking 2020 header

Our Snacking 2020 syndicated study applies innovative approaches to examine what snacking looks like today. Key areas of analysis include but are not limited to:

• How have meal patterns shifted with so many Americans suddenly spending more time in the home, and how does snacking slot into this new rhythm?

• What are the current needs that motivate snacking — is it still about the pillars of nourishment, optimization, and pleasure? What snacks do consumers eat, and how are choices made differently between those working outside of their homes versus those working remotely from home? What benefits do consumers expect their snacks to deliver?

• How do consumer concerns for safety and convenience drive snacking choices? What kinds of tensions and concerns exist in consumer attitudes and behaviors around snacking?

Download study overview and order form: Snacking 2020