CHICAGO — Consumers have developed a new relationship with snacking after spending more time at home over the past year, according to The NPD Group.

More people turned to snacks to cope with new realities, including increased screen time and more at-home entertainment, shifting growth toward previously challenged categories after a decade of wellness-focused needs. While treats like chocolate candy and ice cream saw an early COVID-19 lift, increases in indulgent snacks were temporary. Savory snack foods saw a more sustained pandemic lift. These behaviors have stickiness and staying power, with a strong outlook for chips, ready-to-eat popcorn and other salty items, according to NPD’s The Future of Snacking report.

With little opportunity to leave home during the pandemic, digital content streaming, video gameplay and other entertainment helped consumers keep busy. NPD market research found consumers bought newer and larger TVs all throughout 2020 and total consumer spending on video gaming continued to break records, reaching $18.6 billion in the last quarter of 2020. As consumers spent more time in the house with their families and roommates, snacks played a pivotal role at movie and game nights.

Ready-to-eat popcorn is an example of a go-to snack for at-home entertainment. The savory snack was among the top growing snack foods in terms of consumption in 2020, and its surge is expected to continue. The category is forecast to grow 8.3% in 2023 versus 2020 levels, making it the fastest-growing snack food, according to the report.

“A time-tested movie night favorite, popcorn was well-positioned to capitalize on increases in digital streaming as consumers looked to streaming to pass the time and relieve their boredom,” said Darren Seifer, food industry analyst at The NPD Group. “We found that mood changes impact the snacks people consume — and ready-to-eat popcorn is eaten frequently as a tonic for boredom.”