The evolution of snacking (column)

Think of eating as having Netflix, and eating of yesteryear as having three channels. Food choices are now

Canadians aren’t eating the same as they used to. That’s not a surprise. We don’t live as we used to either. We’re on the go.

So we’re snacking more to help fuel up. Snacking is having a profound impact on what we eat, when we eat and who we eat with.

At Ipsos, we can see the changes happening before our eyes, through our daily online diary of 20,000 Canadians’ eating habits, called Ipsos “Five”. It tracks everything people eat and drink across all categories, brands, occasions and venues. A few telling numbers from our research: almost half of all food and beverage items are now consumed as snacks, rather than as breakfast, lunch or dinner; the average Canadian now snacks six times a day.

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It’s also worth noting that half of all eating occasions happen alone, rather than with friends or family. Yet snacking seems to be working for most of us. Presented with more food choices than ever, Canadians are able to pick what they want, when they want. Think of eating today as having Netflix, and eating of yesteryear as the three-channel universe of the 1970s. Food choices are now “on demand” for individual consumption: eat what you want, when you want.

Even people who prefer to eat three square meals a day are snacking. Meal “traditionalists,” let’s call them, make up 49% of the population. But they still snack, on average, three times a day.

Traditionalists snack for the same reason as everyone else: to fill the hunger gap with something healthy, or with a craveable item as a treat or reward. Snacks are also prized for convenience since they can be toted to school or work.

Snacking’s rise has created a new type of consumer: the mini-meal consumer. Mini-meal consumers represent 16% of the Canadian population. They prefer five to six small meals in the day, rather than traditional meals plus snacks.

Mini-meal eaters are often millennials (18 to 34) and, most likely, female. Their food and beverage choices are driven by a desire for health and nutrition, balanced sustenance and weight loss. It’s no wonder they prefer fresh items, such as vegetable dishes, cheese, salads, fresh-cut veggies and fruit.

Varying needs driving snacking have also blurred lines between a snack food versus a traditional meal food. People no longer adhere to prescribed definitions of snacks. This shifting behaviour of “snackifying” traditional meal foods has resulted in one in three snacking occasions including a meal food, such as ready-to-eat cereal or a sandwich.

And snacks are no longer just foods. They’re beverages, too. Over the 12 months to June, more than 80% of snack occasions included a beverage. Of those, more than 30% were drink-only occasions. Top snack beverages include water, coffee, soft drinks, tea and fruit and vegetable juice. Yes, snacking is changing the way we eat and drink. Perhaps for good.




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