CHICAGO — Future snack trends may include lab-grown beef jerky, functional nighttime snacks and cannabis. Another possibility is “conversational commerce,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader at Information Resources, Inc.

“‘Hey, Alexa, can you get my favorite snack delivered?’” she offered as a possibility.

Growth in snacks continues to outpace overall food and beverages, and several factors are expected to drive further growth over the next five years, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 21-23 in Chicago.

“We’re in the middle of a snacking evolution,” she said.

Forty-seven per cent of consumers eat three or more snacks a day, up from 43% in 2015, she noted.

“They aren’t snacking at traditional times,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “They are snacking all throughout the day.”

There are four main ways consumers are purchasing snacks, she said. In addition to planned and impulse purchases, there are now on-demand and experiential opportunities.

“Think about it — when you want something, you can just get it on your phone,” she said. “Experiential is all about how consumers want to engage with their snacks. It could be an engaging package. It could be virtual reality.”

Experiential may also include foods and beverages that feature multiple textures, tastes and colors.

“This is really something I’ve seen with this younger generation and how they’re looking for different types of snacks,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

Functional and dietary claims are driving growth in snacking categories as consumers seek products that fit specific lifestyle or nutritional needs.

“Fifty-seven per cent of consumers told us they are wanting snacks that contain vitamins and minerals,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “That’s up five points since 2015. That’s significant.”

Additionally, 49% of consumers view snacks as an important part of a healthy eating plan throughout the day, up eight points from 2015.

“All generations are looking for snacks that deliver beyond basic nutrition,” she said. “Fifty-five per cent of consumers are looking for fruits and vegetables in their snacks, and 60% want fresh, non-processed.”

Cannabis and hemp are expected to play a larger role in functional snacking moving forward.

“The future is still yet to be written, but … it will be the big story next year,” she said.

An area of growth is plant-based snacks, which last year increased 19% to more than $188 million in sales.

“Plant-based isn’t just for vegans and vegetarians,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “I know many people just love to eat it because they feel it’s a bit better for them.”

Another key driver of snack sales is flavor, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said, noting the majority of consumers identify flavor and taste as the top reasons for choosing a snack.

“I predict that taste will always be No. 1,” she said. “They still love a cheese flavor. They still love a chocolate flavor. But they love combinations, too.”

Snacks featuring peanut butter flavor generated strong growth last year, she said. Sales of birthday cake-flavored snacks shot up 64% in 2018.

Sweet flavors are in demand, she said, citing double-digit growth of double chocolate, banana and mixed fruit.

“Make sure when you look across your portfolio you pack it with different flavors,” she said. “Be able to appeal to all of the generations with the variety of flavors that are necessary from the sweet all the way to the hot.”

Packaging serves several roles in propelling snack growth.

“One role is elevating snacking,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said, referring to premium yogurt packaged in a glass jar. “Some packaging is all around fun and engaging … Packaging can also assist in showing authenticity (and to) communicate simplicity, transparency and clean labels.”

Portion size is another opportunity.

“Fifty-seven per cent of consumers want snacks in convenient portion sizes,” she said, adding that more than a third of consumers prefer snacks packaged in 100-calorie or similar portions.

Snack brands also should have a comprehensive retail strategy across grocery, mass, convenience, dollar and digital to capture incremental sales, she said.

“Strive to be within a hand’s reach, not an arm’s reach,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “Arm’s reach used to be good enough. Now you need to be within a hand’s reach of the consumer.”