The Future of Snacks in 2022
America is busy, hungry, and looking for a moment of peace and comfort. And the data shows that snacking is the perfect affordable little break in a hectic day.
We dove into four major recent studies about the state of snacking in the United States in 2022, and have brought you insights about the past, present, and likely future of packaged snack foods.
Learn what America is snacking on, when they’re snacking, and where they’re buying those snacks.
Consumers Are Snacking for Comfort, Mostly
When examining snacking trends, one of the most important things to understand is why we snack at all. What drives Americans to eat between meals?
A Mintel survey of over 2,000 internet users over the age of 18 found that the reason people snack depends greatly on the time of day. The data shows that morning and afternoon snacking are statistically most likely to happen because the person is just hungry.1 Maybe their breakfast or lunch wasn’t filling enough, or they’re just burning more energy through the day.
In the evening, though, people are snacking essentially for fun. The most popular answer in the “Snacking Motivations and Attitudes” report of 2022 to the question “why do you snack in the evening?” was to “satisfy a craving” or “treat themselves.”
Nighttime snacking is rarely for hunger, and is more likely to be just answering a nagging craving. People feel like ice cream, pickles, or Cheetos, so they scarf them down. Hopefully, not all mixed together.
When purchasing snacks, the same Mintel report showed that flavor was the primary motivator by a country mile. Flavor held first place at 63%, while “number of calories” came in at a distant second (32%), with “brand” being the third reason for purchase (at 28%).2 Consumers seem to be aware that snacks are inherently unhealthy, and just want a tasty treat–preferably from a brand they’re familiar with.
This tracks with Mintel’s “Frozen Snacks – US – 2022” report, where consumers were asked about their opinions of frozen snack foods. In that survey, convenience and taste rated most highly when asked to describe the attributes of frozen snacks. In “What and How America Eats,” Mintel asked consumers what motivated them to snack. Indulgence and treating themselves was the number one answer at 54%, with “relaxation” at second, and an energy boost at third.3
The data paints a picture of consumers in 2022 snacking for comfort above most other concerns.
With current worries about the economy, the ongoing pandemic, and political turmoil across the world, this need for comfort is unlikely to drop off in the future.
America is Snacking in the Afternoon
Now that we know why consumers are snacking, it’s time to take a look at, well, time. When are Americans snacking, and how does snacking affect their normal meals?
Multiple Mintel surveys found that snacks are most popular at lunchtime. In “Snack, Nutrition, and Performance Bars,” the top answer for “when do you eat snack bars” was during the afternoon. In the “Frozen Snacks” report, frozen snacks too were the most popular for lunchtime (almost 50% in that survey).4
In “What and How America Eats,” a survey of over 1,500 people, 39% said they have an afternoon snack a few times a week. Almost a quarter of people surveyed (24%) said they snack between lunch and dinner every day. Frozen snacks are also more popular at lunch than any other time.5
Evening snacking comes in at a close second place, though. The “What and How America Eats” report showed that 81% of people surveyed snack during the afternoon or evening, with only 68% saying they snack in the morning.
Frozen snacks at or after dinner came in second place after lunch, too, with 42% saying they do frozen snacks at night over the 48% who snack at lunch.
When it comes to the frequency of snacking, over half said they snack two to three times every single day.6 Only 22% said they snack once a day, with non-snackers making up only 5%.
What is America Snacking On?
We gathered the snacking preferences of the average American from a few different Mintel reports.
People are noshing on convenient snack bars. When it comes to snack, nutrition, or performance bars, 77% said they bought some kind of bar in the past three months. Snack bars led the pack at 53%, with nutrition bars in 2nd place (35%) and weight loss bars at an abysmal 13%.7
It’s hard to beat the portability and convenience of pre-packaged snack bars.
Pizza bites and pizza rolls are still the undisputed masters of the frozen snack aisle. In a 2022 survey, the most popular choice for frozen snack was pizza-flavored. Mozzarella sticks came in next, with frozen burritos just behind them. The least popular frozen food choice was hors d’oeuvres.
Again, pizza, mozzarella sticks, and frozen burritos are all classic comfort foods.
Spanish flavors were the most popular international choice. When asked what international flavors they prefer or are interested in trying, Spanish was the top choice at 32%, with Japanese close behind at 31%. Thai rounded out third place at 28%.
Spanish is likely related to the popularity of frozen burritos for snacking, while Japanese choices may point to edamame or snacks with teriyaki flavors.
Meat snacks will hit the largest audience. When asked about their dietary preference, the vast majority of Americans, a colossal 90%, answered first with “any meat” before describing their other preferences.8
Of course, that doesn’t mean snacks have to be entirely meat, but you only lose about 1 in 10 of potential consumers by including meat.
Americans are buying most of their snacks at the supermarket. Almost half (49%) answered that supermarkets were their go-to snack source, with mass merchandisers as their second choice (and warehouse clubs in third).9
Now, what are they buying at the supermarket? Most shelf-stable foods, according to “What and How America Eats.” When asked about the nature of their snacks, shelf-stable foods beat out fresh food snacks by nearly double in some cases.10
Healthy Snacks Aren’t Completely Off the Table
Though a lot of these answers point to consumers not caring about healthy snacks, the truth is a little more nuanced.
While comfort may be the main reason we’re reaching for snacks, Americans are still trying to do better. When specifically asked about their thoughts on eating, 44% said making healthy food choices was important to them, and 36% want to cook from scratch more than last year. 58% also said they’d like to eat healthier, but feel that rising food prices are making it a difficult option.11
Takeaway: Americans want healthy options, they want them to be affordable, but they don’t want to lose the comfort and convenience of shelf-stable snack foods. They’re turning to snacks in the afternoon most often, and their night snacking is more about stress relief than hunger.
CPG and snack marketers looking to crack the market can benefit from healthy, affordable, tasty snacks, while at the same time playing up the desire for so many Americans to take a break and not worry about what they’re eating.
To learn more about marketing your snacks, especially in a live event space, reach out to Inspira Marketing.
Snack, Nutrition, and Performance Bars – US – 2022 (1, 7)
Frozen Snacks – US – 2022 (4)
Snacking Motivations and Attitudes – US – 2022 (2, 6, 9)
What/How America Eats – US – 2022 (3, 5, 8, 10, 11)