Numerator’s Natalie Holten and Kristen Bennett reveal how consumer behavior is shifting in the convenience and online channels and its impact on the candy and snack categories.
Washington — It’s no surprise that consumers have been in a period of economic uncertainty. With the ingredient of inflation entering the confectionery and snacking landscape, how and when consumers shop has shifted across a multitude of sub-sectors and brands causing a ripple effect on shopping habits.
The Online Retail Landscape
As they settle further into post-COVID lifestyles, certain pandemic habits have stuck with shoppers, including their online shopping habits. Overall, online sales within the snack sector grew by 13 percent in the 12 months ending February 26, 2023, versus the year prior, and that trend shows no sign of slowing. Nearly half of all households have bought snacks online in the past year, with three in four of these shoppers repeating their purchase online.
Additionally, not only are households who are purchasing snacks online increasing or maintaining shopper loyalty, but they are also spending more than in-store snack buyers — online snack spend per trip is $15.30, 1.8 times higher than spend per trip in-store. Brands that are able to win the online shopper will have a larger opportunity to maintain heavy and loyal shoppers within the category.
So where can brands find these online snack shoppers? While Amazon owns the highest share of online grocery trips at 37 percent, the online retailer is missing out on snacks, capturing only 28 percent of online trips in the category. Walmart.com wins the highest share of online snack trips, and the category outperforms there, capturing 38 percent of trips versus 29 percent for total grocery.
For brands looking to develop a strong online growth strategy, increasing presence on Walmart.com will be crucial. Additionally, brands that can help grow the category on Amazon.com will be able to capitalize on the already-engaged grocery shoppers there.
Targeting The Online Shopper
As brands build a strategy for reaching online snack shoppers, it will be important to develop a deep understanding of who they are, from their shopper profiles to their media consumption habits. Online snack buyers are more likely to be white/caucasian, high-income millennials or Gen Xers living in a larger household with children. They are active several times a day across platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok and view online shopping as a way to save money and time. Brands looking to engage these shoppers would be wise to develop online marketing strategies geared towards busy families on social media.
Since online snack shoppers are more likely to do their due diligence in researching products before making a decision, brands who play in better-for-you sectors will have a greater share of spend in digital channels. Indeed, markets such as nutrition and wholesome bars, dried fruit and fruit snacks, and popcorn have heavily over-indexed online, while non-seasonal candy, packaged portable sweet snacks and packaged sweet bakery goods have significantly under-indexed.
The C-Store Retail Landscape
With more consumers traveling again, whether for personal or work-related occasions, c-stores are proving to be a large growth-driving opportunity within the snack category. Nearly three in four households have made a snack purchase in that channel in the past year, and those shoppers are proving to be 20 percent more valuable to the category. They are purchasing snacks more often — making 38 additional snack trips per year versus all snack shoppers — and more frequently making unplanned purchases — 51 percent of purchases are spontaneous.
Brands that are able to meet snack shoppers with the right assortment will have the opportunity to grow their consumer base with new households.
Travel and experiential c-stores are seeing the most growth in purchase occasions, with Hudson and Buc-ee’s over-indexing year ago sales by 145 and 138, respectively. Buc-ee’s is outpacing the market as it expands its footprint and introduces more households to the future of the channel. The snack category will continue to play an integral role in that process. Additionally, as consumers are returning to air travel en-masse, airport banners like Hudson will continue to see a bump in snack spending.
Targeting The C-Store Shopper
C-store snack shoppers are more likely to be Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino Gen Xers with low purchasing power, who typically live in rural areas in larger households of three or more members. These shoppers are often on the road and are eating on the run, as they’re dining out on average more than four times per week. Since they’re busy, they typically don’t have enough time to be active or focus on health.
Compared to online snack buyers, better-for-you options are not as popular with c-store shoppers — crackers, packaged cookies and candy are significantly outpacing the snack seeds, nuts and trail mixes sectors, which are experiencing the slowest growth among snack sectors within the total c-store arena.
Brands within the high-growth sectors listed above can try to connect with these on-the-go shoppers through radio, specifically within the genres of dance/electronic, family, R&B, religious, Spanish and sports. They can also be reached through outdoor advertising and social media platforms. They’re most active on Snapchat and TikTok.
As the online channel continues to grow and c-stores capitalize on unplanned purchases to offer additional buying opportunities, it will be crucial for snack makers to develop offerings that meet shoppers’ needs through a deeper understanding of their household and to tailor assortment strategy by channel and retailer.
Contributor Info: Kristen Bennett and Natalie Holten are consumer insights consultants at Numerator, a data and tech company that specializes in market research with first-party, consumer-sourced data. Kristen and Natalie have developed expertise in analyzing shopper behavior, managing client relationships across a range of CPG categories and retailers, and providing insights to help them make data-driven decisions. They can be reached at [email protected].