Are snacks recession proof?

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Despite the rising economic woes, people still crave small pops of pleasure from snacks. Pic: pfb1
Despite the rising economic woes, people still crave small pops of pleasure from snacks. Pic: pfb1

Related tags 84.51 Inflation Economics Snacks Recession comfort foods

US retail data science, insights and media company 84.51° polled shoppers about their buying intentions ahead of the 25th edition of Sweets & Snacks Expo, held in Chicago in late May.

With inflation and the Consumer Price Index reaching 1980s levels, 45% of the survey respondents said they have been forced to tighten belts to keep their heads above water. Typically, the first items to be passed over in these times are those perceived as unessential, with sweets, snacks and indulgent baked goods falling into that category.

But the fact is, during times of pressure, people crave comfort and small pops of pleasure.

The magic trio falls into the group of foods that stimulate the limbic reward system in the brain. This chemically triggers strong cravings for comfort foods and snacks,​ scientifically termed as reactional hyperphagia. Simply put, emotional stress causes brain-chemical and hormonal changes that decrease feelings of satiety and reward the compulsion to snack.

Research has found that comfort snacking varies from person to person. We form unconscious, sensory relationship with food – possibly even in vitro. According to Prof Brian Wansink, Ph.D, University of Illinois marketing professor, his extensive career in research “can be summarised in saying, ‘people’s tastes are not formed by accident’.”

Illustrating this, men and women (in general) are noted to crave different foods: while women lean towards the sweet, soft and indulgent, men swerve towards the hot, spicy and savoury.

Crunching the numbers

While this compulsion is not ideal for our expanding waistlines, it will bring a collective sigh of relief for snack developers.

The foremost query the 84.51° Insights team wanted to answer was, given the current economic woes, have shoppers sourced on snacks?

When asked how they’re coping with grocery store price increases, 52% of shoppers were more being more careful with purchases in the dairy (82%), produce (78%), and deli/meat/fish (77%) categories. 64% did admit, though, that they’d cut back on snacks and candy “if money was tight”.

But sales numbers reveal a sweeter story (proof that the majority of Americans are still giving the weakening economy the finger).

According to 84.51°, overall category sales of snacks have risen 9% YTD 2022. Rice cakes with a 29% YTD sales jump lead the snacking surge, followed by Multipack Snack (23%) and berries (18%).

Snacks 1

The survey found the go-to snacks include fruit (70%) and potato chips (62%), with 59% of respondents veering to these selections to satisfy a craving. 74% claim that taste is king (no surprise here), even more important than curbing their appetite (46%) or getting more protein (26%).

Snacks 2


Stress, eating and the reward system

Authors: Tanja C Adam and Elissa S Epel

Physiol Behav, 2007 Jul 24;91(4):449-58

doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.04.011

Engineering Comfort Foods

Author: Wansink, Brian

American Demographics; Detroit 22.7 (Jul 2000): 66-67

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