Your most important meals of the day? (Column)

Canadians snack five times a day. If you want to understand eating habits, you can't ignore snacking

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Once upon a time, “let’s eat” meant one of three things: breakfast, lunch or dinner. Snacking was not a meal. It was a treat; a chocolate bar during break at work, a bowl of popcorn to go with the movie you just popped into the VHS machine. (I did say “once upon a time,” didn’t I?)

Today, snacking is something different. No longer just an indulgence, snacks are meals and part of healthy eating regimes. More than two-thirds (67%) of eating occasions in Canada occur outside of traditional meals as snacks. If you want to understand shopping and eating habits, you can’t ignore snacking. So let’s bite into snacks, shall we. The information here is from Ipsos FIVE’s “Canadian Snacking Nation,” our look at recent snacking patterns.

The majority of Canadians still stick to some form of “three square meals a day.” However, a growing number of us, led by millennials, choose to snack or eat mini-meals. Our busy schedules have something to do with that. We don’t have time to sit down to a full meal. But many also see mini-meals as fitting their dietary needs.

For snacking, afternoon is prime time. Four in ten (41%) snack occasions occur in the afternoon. Year-over-year growth in afternoon snacking is driven by an increase in snacking at home (+2%) and by on-the-go snacking (+2%).

People snack in the afternoon for several reasons. Hunger and thirst, yes. But also craving, convenience, energy, portability and health. More than three-quarters (77%) of afternoon snack occasions include a beverage, while less than half (42%) include a traditional snack food, such as chocolate, fruit or potato chips.

There can be no discussion about snacking without mentioning health and nutrition. Almost one in three people (28%) report a dietary restriction or sensitivity impacting snacking decisions, ranging from gluten or lactose intolerance to halal to nut allergies. We’ve also seen a trend to snacks with fewer ingredients and with claims such as low sugar/no sugar added, locally grown/sourced, organic and vegetarian/vegan.

Today, snacking isn’t about products traditionally considered snack foods (chocolate, chips, pop). Snacking is more to do with an occasion or need. No wonder that one in five (21%) snacks include a non-traditional snack food. For example: pizza, sliced bread or toast, sandwiches and even ready-to-eat cereal.

Conversely, traditional snack foods are showing up as meal replacements or meal accompaniments (+3% since 2014). Today, more than one-third (36%) of traditional snack foods are consumed as meal replacements or accompaniments. Such occasion-agnostic foods as fruit, cheese, yogurt and dips/spreads/salsa get the nod as top meal replacement or accompaniments. The same item eaten as breakfast today, could be a treat for watching TV the next evening.

The fact a product you sell may be a meal one day and a snack the next should not be cause for concern. Canadians snack an average five times a day. There are more than 62 billion snacking occasions annually. So, lots of opportunity to bite into. CG