NPD Group’s Darren Seifer: Is Gen X The Future of Snacking?

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Gen X consumers sit in the growth phase of snacking and The NPD Group, Inc.’s Darren Seifer examines what they are looking for from manufacturers and retailers.

Darren Seifer, The NPD Group, Inc.

Gen X is sometimes viewed as the “forgotten generation,” as it is between the larger demographic groups of millennials and boomers. And because many marketers fish where the fish are, they might have left gen X out of their marketing strategies. The NPD Group’s report, The Future of Snacking, shows gen Xers might be a generation worth watching so marketers can capitalize on their expected snacking growth.

Snack foods and the occasions when they are consumed are a moving target in the food and beverage world. Are Americans snacking more? Which foods are growing? During which times do people snack more often? All these parameters are in flux in the forecast of snacking behaviors through 2023.

Gen X, comprising consumers aged 38 to 53 in 2018, is moving into a life stage with older children in their homes, and some are even beginning their “empty nester” years. Historically adults in this life stage begin eating more snack foods, putting gen Xers firmly in a growth phase of snacking.

Their motivations for choosing specific foods vary, reflecting their greater acceptance of snacking. Good taste, satisfaction and functionality are the reasons they use snack foods. Categories like fruit, nuts and seeds are poised to grow the most among this generation, but more indulgent categories such as ice cream, muffins and donuts, and frozen yogurt are expected to succeed with them as well.

Opportunities For Reaching Gen Z

The youngest generation in the U.S., gen Z, spans several life stages from young kids to early adulthood. By 2023, older gen Zs will be 18 to 26, which typically signals drastic changes in consumption behaviors compared to early teen years. Young adults start to move out on their own but with that new-found freedom comes the responsibility to prepare one’s meals.

At this life stage, adults typically have little experience or know-how in the kitchen and often resort to convenient options, meal replacements or skipping meals all together. For these reasons, when consumers are in their early 20s, they eat the fewest number of meals compared to any other age group, and gen Zs likely will be no exception.

While they might represent a challenge for snacking consumption, there are still opportunities to connect with their expected needs. Snack foods with tailwinds behind this generation will need to reflect portability and ease of use.

Looking Beyond Traditional Options

In the coming years for gen Zs entering adulthood, snack foods will function as a means to curb hunger until their next meal or as their next meal and expect their snack foods to give them additional benefits versus just calories. And as they shed off their childhood palates, their snacking preferences are expected to shift toward savory options such as salty snacks, nuts and seeds.

However, that doesn’t mean they are looking for their grandfather’s version of snack foods. They have been exposed to global cuisine on the internet from a very young age and expect these flavors as part of their variety. As the most multicultural generation this nation has ever seen, they are open to a greater assortment, which often includes bolder, spicier flavors, as well as ingredients that promise health benefits.

At about 25 percent of the U.S. population, millennials will contribute a greater share of snack food consumption than gen X. Millennials are expected to maintain their current levels of snacking, but don’t call them “static.” As with many aspects of our culture, millennials have redefined snacks from both the occasion and food perspectives. They occasionally stress health when choosing their snack foods, but they are more attracted to something new — such as flavors, packaging, combinations or other examples of newness. They constantly look to snack occasions to introduce new flavors and experiences in their daily repertoires, meaning millennials plan their snacking dayparts as much or more than they plan breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Categories that offer satiety, protein, and reduced sugar, such as meat snacks, nuts and seeds, and salty snacks, are positioned to gain share among millennials, but this group also responds to flavor innovation.

Boomers are heading into a relative high life stage for consuming snack foods. They consider snacking the bonus daypart, ideal for everything from a work break to a small luxury after completing a task. Their needs move in two separate yet equally important directions: the need to manage health, and indulging to enjoy their time. They are becoming empty nesters so their focus is back on themselves.

Expect categories like ice cream on the indulgent side and fresh fruit and yogurt on the healthy side to show strong gains among boomers in the coming years.

Gen X pales in size compared to these other generations, but its importance to the snacking universe can’t be ignored. Marketers in snacking categories and occasions need to rethink their messaging to include this group given its expected rise in relevance.

Seifer delved further into this topic during an On Demand Unwrapped webinar. Access to the webinar archive, as well as the rest of the On Demand Unwrapped series, is available to 2019 and 2020 Expo registrants, NCA members and retail partners. C&ST

CONTRIBUTOR INFO: Darren Seifer is food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group, Inc., where he provides insights based on NPD’s food-related research. He has authored research reports that cover topics such as concerns and strategies related to genetically modified foods, the profile of the organics consumer, the impact of baby boomers and millennials on America’s eating patterns, and consumption behaviors of Hispanics in the U.S. He can be reached at [email protected]