In rail transport, a level junction is the crossing of two tracks, which allows trains — using similar or different types of rails — to change direction or get to their destinations quickly and without hitches. The snacking industry also has a level junction that is known by another name: the omnichannel.

As a type of retail marketing that overlaps multiple shopping environments, omnichannel provides a fast, seamless experience for consumers with a snacking destination. From department stores adding on-the-go selections to supercenters incorporating click-and-collect, consumers desire fluid retail environments as well as the ability to get their snacks anytime and anywhere.

During her 2018 SNAXPO presentation “State of the Snack Food Industry,” Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader, client insights, at IRI, said that a big driver of cross-channeling is e-commerce. Although it only grabbed 2% of dollar shares in 2017, it has had a 21% share of growth. E-commerce is also poised for double-digit market growth, she said.

Online snack sales have exploded in every part of the world, but China is particularly taking the lead, even surpassing the US, according to “State of Global Snacking: Trends, Growth and Channel Disruption,” a SNAXPO presentation by Jared Koerten, lead analyst at Euromonitor International, a market research provider.

Amazon currently sits No. 6 in the list of global retailers, a big jump from its No. 186 spot in 2000, noted researchers in “Global Powers of Retailing 2018,” a study by consulting firm Deloitte. The online company is testing food trucks and automated stores and acquired Whole Foods in 2017, which gave it access to about 450 brick-and-mortar stores throughout the US.

The brick-and-mortar addition to this online giant is proof that physical stores aren’t going away. In fact, Deloitte found that 90% of worldwide snack sales still happen through c-stores, supercenters, grocery stores and more.

Ms. Lyons Wyatt said 39% of consumers don’t even think to purchase their snacks online. “They’re either not doing it because they think it’s too expensive — that’s their perception — or that it’s going to be a crushed product when they get it, or, potentially, that there might be products that are melted before they get to their home,” she explained.

So, the key to omnichannel success in the snacking industry is crossing the online and offline tracks.

According to the Deloitte report, in 2016 digital interactions had an impact on 56¢ of every dollar spent in brick-and-mortar stores, which was 36¢ more than in 2013. “Just how much digital influences consumer spending is a real eye opener,” Deloitte researchers noted in the report, adding: “People who shop using different methods — including online, mobile and visits to a physical store — spend more than double those who only shop at brick-and-mortar stores.”

Retailers and snacking brands can use digital formats to create purchases or use it to send consumers to a physical store. The partnerships between retailers and online companies is growing. Instacart, a same-day grocery delivery company, is now working with H-E-B, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Aldi, Albertsons, Price Chopper and Sam’s Club, according to Euromonitor International. Even one of Walmart’s pillars is to ramp up its Grocery Online service.

The global click-and-collect trend merges online and in-store options. From 2017 to 2018, Euromonitor International recorded that the number of click-and-collect locations increased from about 1,100 to 2,000 for Walmart; from 1,000 to more than 1,500 for Kroger; from less than 100 to 1,000 for Target; and from about 100 to 500 for Albertsons. Whether consumers are clicking then collecting curbside, in-store or at pick-up locations, omnichannel gives them the benefit of convenience along with the experience that comes from visiting a store.

Creating an engaging experience in stores can be done in a variety of ways, such as having a knowledgeable staff or providing product samples. Technology is a big part of the interactive approach, according to Deloitte, and it allows for a greater partnership between manufacturers and retailers. Perhaps it’s a video display of information about how and where a product was made, or maybe a customer sees the product source through virtual or augmented reality.

“These kinds of enabling technologies and automation, among others, are staking a claim in retail as tools that both brick-and-mortar and online retailers alike can use to further elevate their businesses and advance customer relationships,” Deloitte noted in the report. “The shopping journey and pre-shopping research is a fluid process with consumers bouncing between online and offline along the path to purchase.”

Just as operators control train routes to prevent collisions, snack channels must be understood and controlled to ensure a seamless experience. This can be done by monitoring consumer preference data through the number of clicks, store purchases or consumer comments. By understanding what channels a brand’s audience is most drawn to, a company can focus on overlapping those as opposed to trying to do it all.

Ms. Lyons Wyatt said using multiple retail channels is trending across generations, but different demographics use different channel combinations. For example, older millennials are seen shopping across a variety of channels, including grocery, mass/supercenter, club, online, drug and dollar stores. Generation X consumers stick to mostly c-stores, online and drug stores. “As you see where the different generations are skewing higher, then you need to make sure you get your messaging and assortment right in those stores,” she added.

Crossing the right channels to create a more convenient and efficient route requires research and work, but in this landscape of purchasing opportunities, it’s worth it to get consumers headed in the right direction.

This article originally appeared in SNAC International's SNAC World. To read other articles in the issue, click here