Most Americans still stick to some type of three-meal-a-day regimen, but increasingly those meals are smaller—and, not surprisingly, often they are supplemented by snacks. That trend is among changes identified in the NPD Group’s recent report, Snacking in America 2012.
The study, which looks at long-term snacking attitudes and behaviors and forces affecting snack selection, notes that one out of every five eating occasions involves a snack. More than half of us (53 percent) snack two or three times a day.
The average American today has 4.1 food and beverage items at dinner compared with 5.3 items in 1985; often dinner is the only time that many consider they are eating a complete meal.
“Our frequent snacking is a result of our hectic lifestyles, need for convenience, increasing desire to eat healthier foods and simply to enjoy what we eat,” says Carren Seifer, an NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “There is, however, a complexity to snacking behaviors based on demographics, needs states and attitudes,” he adds.
NPD’s data jibes with other findings as well. Recent snacking research by Technomic found that 48 percent of consumers snack at least twice a day, about double the number compared to 2010. And Packaged Facts calls snacking "integral" to the lifestyles of Millennials.
Quick-service chains understand the snacker mindset. Perhaps the most prominent bid for noshing customers is Taco Bell’s fourth meal promotion. Lately McDonald’s has joined the fray by testing breakfast-after-midnight at some Midwestern locations. Late-night visitors can enjoy Egg McMuffins and other breakfast favorites normally only available early in the day.
Full-service restaurants can benefit from this growing trend in several ways, including:
• Creating an all-day small-plates menu in addition to traditional daypart menus.
• Offering grab-and-go items for time-pressed customers.
• Remaining open for business during traditionally slow times, such as mornings, mid-afternoon and late night.
Keep in mind as well that snacking extends beyond food. Sales of coffee, tea, soft drinks, smoothies and alcoholic beverages, depending on the time of day, can represent a substantial boost to the bottom line.