C-stores and snacking: General Mills poll reveals shoppers' salty snacks habits

By Vince Bamford

- Last updated on GMT

General Mills polled 3,000 US shoppers in the study: Photo: iStock - olegkalina
General Mills polled 3,000 US shoppers in the study: Photo: iStock - olegkalina

Related tags Salty snacks Snack food Us

Seven out of ten US convenience store shoppers buy salty snacks to boost their mood, according to new research by General Mills.

The manufacturer’s Convenience & Foodservice division polled 3,000 convenience store food and beverage shoppers aged 18 to 54 years across the US last year in a bid to better understand consumers’ perception of the salty snacks category.

The study found that 70% of shoppers bought salty snacks to improve their mood, and considered the snack as a treat or reward, or as something that would make them ‘feel better’. Other key reasons for purchasing snacks included to satisfy a taste craving (44%), to pair with lunch or a drink (40%), to keep them going until the next meal (39%), or as a healthy choice (31%).

Disconnect from busy lives

Consumers use salty snacks as a reward, as a treat to help satisfy cravings or as a way to disconnect from their busy lives​,” said General Mills Convenience and Foodservice consumer insights researcher Kelly Kees.

General Mills, owner of snack brands including Bugles and Annie’s, found that more than eight in ten shopper who bought salty snacks at convenience stores ate them within an hour. Almost half of shoppers (49%) consumed the snack within 15 minutes, with a further 36% eating them between 15 and 60 minutes after purchase.

Researchers also learned that 68% of c-store food and beverage purchases are unplanned and are bought on impulse once seen in the store.

Snacking alone

And the study revealed that 95% of shoppers say they generally eat their snacks alone, with afternoon snacking alone the most common occasion.

iStock_potato chips - dgstudiodg
Taste is the key driver of salty snack consumption. Photo: iStock - dgstudiodg

Taste is the first and foremost driver for salty snack purchases, but the ways shoppers satisfy their salty cravings help differentiate the multitude of products available​,” added Kees.

The research found shoppers segment salty snacks into four main groups (see table below), which the manufacturer used to suggest how retailers could shape their product mix:

Salty Craving:​ “Amp up the flavor. Bold and spicy flavors are popular among Millennial and Hispanic shoppers who are looking for mood enhancers that give them a jolt of energy through flavor – plus small C-store sizes allow for easy trial​.”

Healthier:​ “Inherent protein sources and ‘natural’ ingredients are viewed as healthy salty alternatives. Nuts and jerky provide fuel from minimally processed sources​.”

Bold Substance:​ “Keep shoppers in the moment with multi-form salty snacks and mixes that make snacking fun and alleviate boredom​.”

Sweet & Salty:​ “Shoppers want snacks that can deliver on more than one craving. Sweet and Salty snacks allow for indulgence, savory flavors and a bit of crunch without the candy bar guilt.​”

Retailers need to ensure they have a broad assortment of salty products​,” said Kees. “Spicy snacks, salty/sweet snacks and different product forms like snack mixes fulfill additional consumer needs beyond the initial salty craving, like health, satiety or passing the time​.”

General Mills described salty snacks as one of the top destinations for convenience store shoppers. Citing Nielsen data to October 31 2015, the manufacturer said it was the third largest food and beverage category and had been growing at more than 5% for the last five years.

Shopper segments and how they meet 10 consumer needs:

Salty Craving​ (has a 55% unit share of Salty Snacks)

  • Old Standbys - Chips, puffs in traditional flavors with broad appeal
  • Spicy Adventure - Crunchy with hot and bold flavors; more adult
  • Change it Up - Crunchy, salty and flavorful, but not spicy

Healthier​ (29% unit share of Salty Snacks)

  • Natural Satiety - Sensible, healthy real food e.g. trail mix, nuts
  • Pass the Time - Sunflower seeds to relieve boredom
  • Better for You - Guilt free satisfaction; traditional salty craving alternatives
  • Meaty Goodness - Protein for energy, weight loss; Real food

Bold Substance​ (15% unit share of Salty Snacks)

  • Bold Meaty Fix - Protein for energy boost and bold flavor enjoyment
  • Enhanced Experience - Multi-form products for variety and satiety

Sweet Craving​ (1% unit share of Salty Snacks)

  • Sweet & salty - Indulgent mixed flavors

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