“It doesn’t matter if you cut the data by income, it doesn’t matter if you cut the data by age -- it’s a universal trait among shoppers,” Koerten said.
Impulse snack purchases are still seen most clearly in the convenience channel, which holds a 16% share of all snacks sales and has grown by 27% since 2012, significantly faster than the market average.
However, over time there has been a significant decline in consumers reporting this type of spur-of-the-moment behavior, according to Euromonitor.
With a shifting retail landscape and the rise of online food shopping, the common impulse snack purchase while waiting in the checkout line has declined.
Checkout aisles and perimeter store developments
Many impulse purchases occur at the checkout area or when meandering the center store aisles. The issues is that retailers are offering self-checkout options as well as more attractive food items around the perimeter of the store.
“One of the key zones for that unplanned snack purchase is the checkout,” Koerten said. “The problem with self-checkouts is you're wholly engaged in the checkout process -- I don’t’ have that moment to look around.”
Store features like the ‘grocerant’, full-service, small-scale restaurants, and fresh, ready-made meals like Whole Foods gourmet mac n’ cheese bar are pulling shoppers away from the center aisles as well.
“Why are retailers pushing these elements at the expense of the center store? Well, there’s a major shift in eating habits that have occurred over the last several years,” Koerten pointed out.
USDA data shows that since the recession, younger, millennial consumers are less likely to eat or cook at home and prefer the experience of dining out.
“In many cases these prepared foods compete directly with packaged snacks,” he added. The option of freshly baked bread has become more appealing than a conventional loaf found in the center of the store.
Impact of e-commerce
The supermarket remains the biggest channels for snacks, but when it comes to growth, online retail is the clear front runner growing between 20% to 25% every year for the past five years.
The impact of e-commerce is perhaps the most obvious threat to impulse purchases because as more consumers are spending their food dollars online, they are making fewer physical store trips, according to Koerten.
“They’re going to stores less often and this decreased frequency is essentially resulting in fewer opportunities to make that unplanned snack purchase in the store,” he said.
“This trend is really being driven by millennials and younger consumers. As you move down the age continuum there’s really a significant shift in terms of consumers making fewer and fewer trips to grocery retailers.”
The rise of “click and collect” services where consumers order their groceries online then head to the store to pick up their items has been a major innovation in online grocery. In 2014, there were 200 stores offering in-store grocery pick up services, by the end of 2018, there will be more than 5,000, according to Euromonitor.
While it may seem less convenient than home grocery delivery, Koerten argued that “consumers absolutely love the experience” as they still have the experience of brick and mortar grocery shopping but feel the time savings and convenience benefits more profoundly.
How can snacks brands drive impulse purchases online?
The strategy to encourage impulse purchases online will have to come from snack brands optimizing their online listings with features like Q&A sections, user reviews, and creating a manufacture-consumer dialogue.
"You need to include all of your brand message in an online environment," Koerten said.
It's also imperative that snack manufacturers appear on the first page of search results.
"Think about search engine optimization. Our research shows that many consumers will not go past even the first page of search results when they’re looking for something online."
Snack companies should also consider partnering with online meal kit services like Quaker did with Chef'd and Unilever partnership with Sun Basket to drive exposure of their products, Koerten added.