Psychology of snacking

by Joanie Spencer
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Midday, snackers focus on convenience and portability, looking for foods they can bring back to their offices and desks.

HOUSTON — As snack producers continue to investigate how and when consumers are snacking, they must not forget to understand why they’re snacking, as well. In fact, Darren Siefer, food and beverage industry analyst, NPD Group, Food and Beverage Consumption Practice, advised attendees at SNAXPO 2016 to think back to their college psychology course and evaluate personal motivations.

Darren Seifer, The NPD Group
Darren Siefer, food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group

“Whether emotional, healthy or ‘I just want to get something to eat,’ people are going through dynamic shifts throughout the day,” Mr. Siefer said. “Everything from hunger fulfillment to cost, you have to take them all into consideration as part of the profile of your key targets.”

For example, people usually start their day with good intentions, motivated by health and satiety, he said. What’s coined as the most important meal of the day is serving a very functional need.

During lunch time and midday snacking, individuals are then focused more on convenience and portability, especially as more and more people engage in “working lunches” and looking for foods they can bring back to their offices and desks. And don’t forget the post-school snacks that often are consumed in the car on the way to extracurricular activities.

Moving into evening, these hurried consumers start looking for more emotional need fulfillment. They want something comforting and easy to fix. Then the later it gets, the less practical people become.

“As the day goes on, health just kind of goes away,” Mr. Siefer suggested. “At the end of the day, we want something sweet, something we crave. Health is not a huge motivator in that time frame.”

Ready-to-eat cereals have an opportunity to serve as a nighttime snack.

After an often overextended day in families of working parents and active children, parents use the late evening to unwind through snacking indulgence. With ready-to-eat cereals waning at breakfast time, opportunity for growth is opening up late at night.

“I see a lot of cereal commercials taking place at night now,” Mr. Siefer observed. “It has little to do with the health aspect, but they’ll talk about how they just put the kids to bed and they’re ready to have fun.”

Late-night is also an opportunity for confectioners to get back to basics, Mr. Siefer said. Transparency and authenticity are big with consumers today, and food manufacturers of any type can use this to their advantage.

Confectioners can appeal to late-night snackers with a sweet tooth.

“I always tell confectioners … that they need to win in that late time-frame with consumers,” he said. “Show them maybe you’re a sensible amount of sugar, but it’s more about the experience of the product.”

Throughout the day, consumers’ needs and motivations are going to change, which will affect their meal and snacking choices. By understanding the thought process behind the choice, snack providers can tailor their products and marketing message to increase consumption at the right time of day.
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