Millennials shake up snacking

by Charlotte Atchley
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Millennials have a preoccupation for healthy snacks because they have grown up in a time of increased concern over obesity.

ORLANDO, FLA. — As snack producers convened March 28-31 in Orlando for SNAXPO 2015, the Snack Food Association’s annual convention, much attention was paid to the state of savory snacks and their place in today’s tumultuous food landscape. As they listened to presentations by author and food industry expert Phil Lempert and Jared Koerten, senior analyst for Euromonitor International, it became clear that millennials are responsible for much of that turbulence and could be the key to thriving in this new landscape.

This young generation, spanning the ages of 18 to 34, is currently coming into its own in purchasing power and surpassing baby boomers in numbers. While they are the most highly educated of any generation, they are also deeper in debt than any other, said Mr. Koerten. However, while low-paying jobs and high debt may be keeping millennials from traditional life steps such as getting married, buying homes and having children, they are ready to spend the money they do have on food.

Mr. Koerten said growing up in a time of increased concern over obesity has driven this generation to have a preoccupation for healthy foods, particularly in snacks, and has led to brands such as Skinny Pop and Kind seeing explosive growth. Promising a low-calorie but satisfying snack, Skinny Pop saw a 1,900% increase in sales from 2011-14, according to Euromonitor. The R.-T.-E popcorn category as a whole saw 10% sales growth from 2008-14 while the microwave popcorn category suffered declines. After partnering with Starbucks, Kind was able to get its product in front of consumers. With recognizable ingredients that consumers could see as well as a commitment to social responsibility, the brand ropes in millennials who have no qualms about voting with their dollars based on these values, Mr. Koerten said.

Millennials’ diversity also has influenced their snacking tastes. Being the most ethnically diverse generation and growing up in an increasingly global society, these young people are looking for interesting flavor combinations. No longer are they satisfied with simple pepper, these shoppers look for jalapeño, chipotle, habanero. In an effort to reinvent themselves, savory snacks also are looking toward sweet flavors for limited-time-only products, such as Cinnamon Sugar Pringles.

“Millennials want connection and community and they get it around food,” Mr. Lempert said. “We need to watch carefully what millennials are eating because they are driving the trends.”

Mr. Lempert and Mr. Koerten also said it is key to stay in front of consumers.

“When I wake up in the morning, I say to myself, ‘What are the consumers thinking?’ because it changes every single day,” Mr. Lempert said.

Trends revolve around healthy eating, home cooking, gourmet ingredients, innovative flavor combinations, on-the-go eating and snacking as meal replacement. It’s in these trends that the snack industry can — and has — found continued growth in the past few years.

The obsession with healthy eating also has influenced this generation to learn to cook at home more, a trend Mr. Lempert believed offers a great opportunity for snack producers. While home cooking is on the rise, Mr. Lempert reported that 72% of home cooks want to improve in their cooking skills and three-fourths of them want more recipes.

“Why aren’t there more recipes on snack food packaging?” he asked S.F.A. members. Educating consumers as to how snacks can be an integral ingredient in their cooking offers the snack industry a way to get consumers to think about their products in a new way.

In this new food landscape, reinventing snacks and the way consumers view and consume them is where continued growth will come from, whether it’s through portability, nutrition or interesting flavors.
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