Trends across a trio of popular snack categories — meat, salty and sweet snacks — point to continued growth throughout 2023, powered by customers’ love of snacking and their desire for value and healthier options.
As CStore Decisions recently reported in its annual Trends Handbook, the meat snack segment saw sales of nearly $2.2 billion, up 0.3%, for the calendar year ending Jan. 1, 2023, according to Ryan Stredney, senior public relations specialist, marketing for Chicago-based market research firm Circana, formerly IRI.
At the same time, sweet snacks such as snack bars, granola bars and clusters rolled in at $819 million in 2022, a 9.5% gain. As for salty snacks, sales are projected to rise, fueled in large part by spicy flavors, sweet and salty combinations and better-for-you options.
Snacking preferences differ among generations, including among Gen Z and millennials.
“Gen Z has a slightly larger lean toward sweets, while millennials prefer salty snacks,” said Abigail Bencio, account strategist for Quench Agency, a food trends analysis and marketing firm.
Chips are the most preferred snack by Gen Z and millennials, followed by cookies and chocolate. When bored at home, Gen Z prefers to eat cheese and crackers, whereas millennials prefer to snack on cookies and crackers, Bencio added.
“When they’re on the go, Gen Z prefers to eat granola bars, jerky and hard candy,” said Bencio. “Millennials prefer to eat granola bars and snack mixes on the go.”
While some suggest that inflation may have hurt snack sales, Mike Jones, the category manager for 80-unit operator S&S Petroleum Inc. in Mukilteo, Wash., said he feels it is just the opposite.
“We believe that the customer is finding great value in the snack category as it compares to other options in the c-store channel,” Jones said. “The exception, however, would be in the larger bags of jerky.”
Indeed, when it comes to meat snacks Jones said that he and his colleagues are seeing more migration to the stick product versus the larger bagged jerky.
“Thoughts are that this is due to rising retails and price elasticity. However, the 3.25-ounce bags are still a viable option at this point,” he said.
With salty snacks, he added, “We have seen huge gains in salty, especially when it comes to flavor profiles that include heat/spicy or other types of innovations.”
As for sweet snacks, Jones pointed out that his company has seen a nice gain. “With candy retails continuing to rise, it would seem that more customers are choosing to go more with a different sweet option,” he said.
Promotions remain key for driving interest and value in the category.
“Two-fer mix-and-match deals for us have proven most successful,” Jones said. “We look for about a 50% take rate to ensure we have an appealing enough offer without giving up too much gross-profit percentage.”
Management is also looking at bundle deals to tie in with the foodservice and cold-vault categories, he added. “We are trying to leverage the success we are seeing in the snack category while attempting to bump up the other categories.”
Clean Label Demand
While well-known brands are expected to remain key sales drivers, clean ingredient trends are offering an opportunity for innovation in the category.
“Consumer demand for clean labels and a focus on wellness will continue to influence the industry and fuel further expansion of functional foods that provide on-the-go healthy snacking solutions,” said Dragana Ilic, buyer III, consumables for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), which operates more than 580 Express c-stores. “(Since) the pandemic, body nourishment has become increasingly more important to consumers, and therefore there is more focus on better-for-you brands, clean labels and quality ingredients.”
Sustainability is another trend that is progressively becoming important, as awareness of climate change continues to grow, Ilic added.
“Consumers will continue to shift dollars to brands and products that mirror their personal values and belief systems,” Ilic said. “Brands taking on climate change, supply-chain transparency and fair trade are expected to grow faster than those just competing on more traditional claims like organic or gluten-free ingredients.”