The State of Snacking: Emerging Trends & Opportunities


Circana’s Sally Lyons Wyatt uncovers the latest findings from the company’s research around consumer snacking habits. 

Wasington — In the past few years, snacking has become an increasingly important part of consumers’ lives. It has become a lifestyle in the U.S., and the pandemic only accelerated this trend as people spent more time at home living, working and eating. As we saw many students returning to in-person learning and hybrid work continuing for 60 million people, some believed snack consumption would revert to pre-COVID-19 levels. However, this did not occur. 

We continue to see an uptick in snacking consumption, even in the current inflationary environment. In Circana’s 2023 Snacking Survey, 49 percent of consumers state they are now consuming more than three snacks per day, an increase of four points in household penetration within the past two years. These findings have shown that consumers turn to their favorite snacks as an affordable means for whatever their needs might be in trying times: mental health and/or well-being. 

Yet, the way consumers are snacking has shifted. There are significant generational differences in the amount and types of snacks consumed. In addition, with brand extensions across categories, consumers’ attitudes regarding the role of certain snacks continue to evolve. 

Younger consumers are driving the increase in snacking, with many opting to eat snacks instead of meals at home, from morning to night. However, snacking is popular among all generations, with baby boomers and Gen Xers tending to snack in the afternoon or evening. 

While millennial and Gen Z consumers value health attributes, convenience, novelty and brand trust, older consumers are focused on wellness, convenience and comfort. Younger consumers are also more likely to try new flavors and choose products with globally inspired taste profiles.

While innovation in the snacking space has declined in recent years, many brands are opting to focus on flavor, co-branded products and brand extensions between snacking sectors, such as popular candy brands expanding into ice cream products. 

Evolving Flavor Profiles Attract Shoppers

Circana has seen pockets of unit and household growth via licensing for many snack products. Bold flavors like Flamin’ Hot Sweet Carolina Reaper, Scorchin’ Hot Cheddar, Tangy Tamarind and Roulette Cool Ranch continue to gain popularity. We have also seen blended flavors do well, such as fudge coconut & caramel, cinnamon peanut butter & cocoa, strawberry & squash and apple & carrot. 

Flavor innovations like these keep consumers interested, and new, unique offerings will continue to drive significant growth this year and beyond. 

Some notable winners in the snacking universe include tortilla chips, sugarfree gum and novelty candy. Tortilla chips are a versatile and popular snack option, with several flavor varieties appealing to people of all ages. Younger consumers drive growth in this category, with bold flavors and gluten-free or plant-based options on the rise. 

Across confections, unit sales and trips are down, while dollar sales are on the rise. Sugarfree gum and mints have recently rebounded as mobility increased, with households raising teens and established workers driving growth. Novelty candy is becoming increasingly popular, and consumers are spending more on premium chocolate, especially for special occasions, holidays and seasons. 

Mental well-being, physical well-being and fun are key reasons consumers choose the snacks they consume. Fun and indulgent snacks are winning the largest share of dollar sales. 

Increased consumer focus on holistic health has led to an increase in better-for-you snack options, with products offering benefits extending beyond nutrition such as immune support, metabolism health and more. 

Snack products with attributes including iron, digestion and omega alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are driving units and dollar sales. Health benefits are of particular importance to older consumers. Offering snacks that cater to shoppers’ unique dietary needs and preferences is an important consideration for fueling growth. 

Adding Functional Benefits

Many shoppers look for snacks that support the specific diet they follow. In 2022, diet and allergy-related claims, such as lactose, vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free, were associated with increased unit and dollar sales. 

Sustainability is another snacking trend that is here to stay, as many shoppers align their attitudes with purchasing products touting key sustainability claims. Sustainable packaging is becoming increasingly important to today’s consumers.

As the appetite for snack products continues to grow, maximizing the potential of each snack sector is key. Social media has become an increasingly important marketing tool for brands and retailers and dramatically influences snacking trends, elevating consumer engagement and excitement across the industry. Leveraging social media across all channels is critical. These platforms offer excellent opportunities to engage, delight and surprise both current and future shoppers.

By engaging with influencers or creating content that will influence shoppers, brands and retailers can incorporate messaging around the many different snack occasions that exist. In-store, finding ways to capture consumer attention via promotions, signage and displays is key.

As the snacking landscape continues to evolve, the industry will need to adapt quickly to find success. Brands and retailers can meet consumer demand by introducing a wide range of innovative products and catering to a variety of tastes and preferences as new trends emerge.

Contributor Info: Sally Lyons Wyatt is executive vice-president & practice leader at Circana. She is a recognized food and beverage thought leader in the CPG and retail industries, and an authority on consumer eating and shopping trends partnering with global clients to leverage big data, technology, omnichannel media and ideas to help achieve better results and drive growth. She can be reached at [email protected]