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Snacking occasions continue to play a greater role in consumers’ daily routines year over year. According to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, consumers snack nearly three times per day on average, and 42% of consumers say they’re snacking more often now than they were two years ago. Further, 39% of consumers (including 57% of 18- to 34-year-olds) say their definition of a snack has changed over the past two years and now includes more foods and beverages.

Traditional snack definitions—items consumed during nontraditional meal hours or items traditionally sold as snacks—are on the decline. This shift suggests that consumers increasingly consider any item to be a snack and that snacks can be eaten at any time. This broadening of the way snacking is viewed presents an opportunity for food service operators to position a wider variety of items as snacks while also acknowledging that snacktime is anytime. Here are some key stats around consumers’ snacking behaviors and preferences.


The leading snack purchase location overall is grocery stores, with 69% of consumers saying they purchase snacks from grocers at least once every 90 days. Fast-food burger concepts come as a close second, with 62% of consumers purchasing snacks from concepts such as McDonald’s or Burger King.

However, broken down by generation, we can see that various generations visit different venues for their snack purchases. The leading location for snack purchases among Gen Zers and Millennials is actually fast-food burger concepts (74% and 69%, respectively), as opposed to grocery stores (69% and 64%, respectively). In fact, with the exception of grocery stores, Gen Zers and Millennials are more likely than Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Matures to purchase snacks at all listed locations. This suggests that younger consumers are more open than their older counterparts to visiting a plethora of venues for their snack purchases.


When it comes to the top 10 snacks consumers have purchased at least occasionally, there’s a pretty even mix between sweet versus savory items. Dairy-based sweets come out on top, with cookies leading snack purchases at 74%, followed by ice cream at 66%. Other sweet snack purchases include candy (56%) and doughnuts (55%). Savory items include potato chips/hard pretzels (62%), chips and salsa (57%), crackers (53%) and fries (51%). Beverages—including any coffee drink (59%) and soft drink (58%)—round out the top five snacks purchased.


Because snacking is such a fast-growing mealpart, staying on top of trends is essential for retaining customers. Here are four trends in the snacking category to keep an eye on.


Coffee cafes, bakery-cafes, airports and other operations are packaging convenient grab-and-go boxes with foods such as Real California cheese, fruit, sandwiches and more in snacking portions, and consumers are eating them up. In fact, 59% of consumers have purchased a packaged grab-and-go snack from a foodservice location at least once in the last 90 days. This skews more strongly with younger consumers (72% of 18- to 34-year-olds), as this is the age group ordering food to go more often now than three years ago.

ON THE MENU: Plano, Texas-based Zoës Kitchen offers fresh snack boxes, including a Balanced Bites variety, which features grilled chicken, mozzarella, pasta salad and mixed fruit. (a)


Snack versions of favorite cheesy appetizers and sides, such as mac and cheese, cheesy breads and quesadillas, are finding momentum. Use Real California cheese as a popular add-on for potato-based snacks, including loaded chips and cheese fries. The comfort food ingredient appeals to the 31% of consumers who are more likely to order indulgent, craveable items for snacks rather than for meals.

ON THE MENU: Lake Forest, Calif.-based Del Taco launched a $1 Chicken Quesadilla Snacker at participating locations. It features grilled chicken and cheddar cheese in a folded and grilled flour tortilla. (b)


Global street foods sold from street carts, kiosks and outdoor stalls are often portioned in mini sizes and easy to eat on the go. With 42% of Gen Zers expressing interest in seeing new international street foods on menus, we should expect to see more ethnic snack choices at restaurants. These options provide a bit of adventure at minimal risk, due to their snackable size and incorporation of ingredients such as Real California sour cream or Hispanic-style cheese.

ON THE MENU: Farmers Branch, Texas-based Taco Bueno recently launched Texas Street Tacos, featuring a choice of protein with caramelized onions, cilantro and cotija cheese. (c)


Overall, 59% of consumers’ snacking occasions include a beverage, with or without food, and consumers increasingly include beverages in their snack definitions. This means we should expect to see smoothies, coffee beverages and other drinks to be sought out more frequently as a snack throughout the day. Consider including callouts such as Real California dairy for health-conscious customers, or ethnic or wow-factor beverages for adventurous diners.

ON THE MENU: White & Brown in Los Angeles serves a number of Taiwanese-style drinks with cheese foam (a foamy layer of milk and cheese), including Matcha Milk Tea with Cheese Foam. (d)


More consumers now than two years ago say they skip or replace one or two meals per day with snacks and say they snack because they don’t have time to eat a meal. This growing reliance on snacks as meals means snacking menus and offerings will need to include heartier options. High-protein snacks, such as Real California cottage cheese bowls or Real California yogurt-based smoothies, could appeal to these diners who are snacking more due to time constraints, especially younger consumers.

For more information and to source California dairy products, visit:


© 2020 Technomic, Inc.

California Milk Advisory Board, an instrumentality of the California Department of Food & Agriculture

For more information and to source California dairy products, visit:


California Milk Advisory Board, an instrumentality of the California Department of Food & Agriculture

© 2020 Technomic, Inc.