US snack sales rose 4.1% to $38.5bn for the 52 weeks ending April 19 this year, according to IRI data.
Growth was seen across all retail channels, but convenience stores represented “disproportionate growth” in snacks, according to Larry Levin, executive VP of industry insights at IRI.
C-stores represented 22% of total snack sales and generated growth of 7.6%.
By comparison, snack sales in food stores were up 2.4%; in mass stores were up 3.7%; in drug stores were up 3.3%; and in club stores up 0.4%. Growth was only larger in dollar stores – up 8.5% – but came from a very low base of 1% total snack sales.
“The thing that is so phenomenal in the data is the amazing growth of snacks in c-stores,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com at last month’s Sweets & Snacks Expo 2015.
“One reason is because gas prices came down so significantly – so consumers now have an extra five or 10 dollars every time they fill up – how much does that play into it?”
Trial and error
Because of this purchasing behavior, Levin said c-stores were great channels in which to trial new products.
“It’s a great chance to promote a new product and leverage [the channel] as a trial vehicle. It’s not a big commitment for the consumer – if they go into the store and put $1 or $1.50 down for a quick snack, it’s not a big investment.”
The fact single-serve products were often stocked in c-stores was also a draw, he said.
“Why buy a multipack as a way to try a new product if they’re unsure they’re going to like it?”
For snack makers, he said it was about driving impulse purchases using promotions and in-store communication to catch the consumer eye.
However, Levin warned as US gas prices had started to creep up again, it was worth watching how this might influence impulse buys in c-stores over the coming year.
Levin said snacking on-the go remained a priority for most of the population.
“Consumers are much more into grazing than they ever were - eating on-the-go is always a big part of their regiment. A couple of years ago, I came up with the term ‘car-feteria’ because the car has become a dining room table,” he said.
“It’s really about – ‘what can I eat because I’m time-tested?’. And so I think snacking just continues to be a new meal occasion.”