Snacking set to join mainstream meals

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Related tags: Food, Datamonitor

Europe is a continent of snackers, and eating between meals is set
to grow there over the next five years. The challenge now for
manufacturers is to turn the oft-maligned snack into an integral
part of the daily diet as meal occasions continue to change.

Eating between meals across Europe is on the rise, with snacks accounting for the majority of the food consumed. Manufacturers must now rise to the challenge of meeting consumer demands for healthier snacks, and for new products which match the new way of eating.

A new report from market analysts Datamonitor​ shows that most Europeans eat a little over 4.5 times a day, and although 'proper' meals are eaten more frequently than snacks, the margin between meals and snack frequency consumption is declining.

Snack consumption accounts for 40 per cent of all eating occasions and by 2007 this will increase to 41 per cent, the report claims, a slight but continual shift away from regular mealtime eating. Spending on food consumption when snacking will grow at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of 2.8 per cent between 2002 and 2007 compared to a CAGR of 2.1 per cent for food consumption on meals, Datamonitor claims.

Out-of-home consumption accounts for a significant and growing proportion of consumers' daily eating occasions. In 2002, 24.4 per cent of eating occasions among Europeans were eaten out-of-home. By 2007 this will account for 27 per cent of all consumption occasions.

"The threat of out-of-home consumption to the retail sector is increasing at a rapid rate and further effort must be made to reach the consumer in out-of-home locations with products that meet the demands of eating in a variety of non-traditional eating environments,"​ said the report's author, Dominik Nosalik.

In the UK, eating out of the home accounts for almost 32 per cent of all food occasions and is set to increase to 35.5 per cent by 2007. This compares to 20 per cent in Germany, 23 per cent in Spain and France, 24 per cent in Sweden and Italy and 25 per cent in the Netherlands.

Meal definitions changing

Datamonitor's survey reveals that traditional views of what comprises a meal are outdated. Today, consumers define meals by function rather than by occasion. The two most important characteristics of a meal for consumers are that it is a significant contributor to daily nutrition and that it is filling - these show that meals are considered in a functional sense first and foremost. Less significant features included predictability, regularity and, least of all, formality of eating.

Many consumers consider some of their 'snacking' to really be other meals and many of them regularly combine different snack foods between set mealtimes and treat this as a meal rather than as snacking. Convenience is the driving force behind the eating of other meals between regular mealtimes. Eating more meals is also a way of coping with insubstantial portions at regular mealtimes.

"That many people eat a number of smaller meals throughout the day is also indicative of the time pressures against traditionally prepared and eaten meals,"​ commented Nosalik. "Consumption is increasingly being made to fit around the needs and lifestyles of people, rather than people fitting their lives around structured mealtimes."

The breakdown of the nuclear family is the most important social factor responsible for the dissolution of set mealtimes and the promotion of more snacking. In 1995, 40.1 per cent of Europeans lived as part of a nuclear family unit, but this will decrease to 34.1 per cent, or 132.7 million consumers, by 2005.

As a result consumers live more individualised lives with a growing fragmentation of their support network - those family members that can physically help out with doing day-to-day activities in the home. This is also driving a skills shortage in basic areas such as cleaning and cooking as families become smaller and knowledge is not passed on. The pressure and desire to achieve more and do more with spare time is also rising. In such a situation something has to give, and for many consumers that means less structured meals and more snacking.

The dawn of meal-snack hybrids?

Although the majority of consumers still treat their between mealtime consumption as merely snacking, manufacturers need to recognise that for an increasing number of consumers 'snacking' is not necessarily impulse driven grazing and can represent a more significant consumption occasion, Datamonitor suggests.

Snacking is so strongly ingrained in consumers' eating habits that there is an opportunity to position snacking as a regular and positive part of consumers' daily nutritional intake, thus shifting away from traditional views of snacking as unhealthy and inadequate consumption behaviour.

This can be done by credibly repositioning typical snack foods, such as nuts, as contributors to daily nutrition or by repositioning other foods as snack foods, thereby broadening the set of foods that consumers draw on to snack. Whereas promoting positive snacking to children needs to be finely balanced and done with the right type of snack foods, targeting adults should focus on enabling them to make better judgements about snacking options, leaving responsibility for healthy choices with the adult.

"Too strong a focus on what traditionally constitutes a meal means that opportunities to target other food types for the meal occasion may be missed. So long as it provides significant nutrition and energy and is filling, any food can be potentially seen as a meal or, indeed, a meal component rather than a snack,"​ Nosalik suggested.

"Developing meal-snack hybrids is likely to be an area of growing activity among food manufacturers as they come up to date with consumers who are eating more frequent smaller meals and those looking for quick and easy, yet substantial solutions for non-main meals."

For details of how to buy Datamonitor's 'New Mealtime Occasions and Locations 2003' report, click here​.

Related topics: Retail & Shopper Insights