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The evolving culture of food: Snacking behaviors and planned spontaneity

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Food companies know by now that consumers want fresh, healthy snacks that can be eaten on the go. That’s because about half the time when people eat or drink these days, they’re snacking. What might be surprising is that while consumers crave food that’s easy to pack for work or the commute, a whopping 80% of snacks are actually eaten at home. People want convenience there, too, because they’re also busy at home and do not necessarily want to cook or prepare a snack. Just like when they’re in the car or at work, they want something handy.

Because consumers are getting a greater proportion of their food from snacks, they want them to have more nutrients than in the past, when snacks were seen largely as special treats. Nowadays, snacks can be almost anything — an apple, a cup of yogurt, a small portion of last night’s leftovers — and can be eaten almost anywhere.

People have devised interesting ways to plan for more frequent snacking. They may not know exactly when or what they’re going to eat, but they know they’ll need something sometime, so they plan to ensure food is available when the need arises. They dive into desk-drawer stashes, pack extra food in their lunches to eat throughout the day and know there’s a store or restaurant nearby if they need it. It’s a sort of planned spontaneity.

Although the rules for snacks have changed dramatically as they’ve become more ubiquitous, they still have a few defining characteristics. In general, snacks tend to be smaller in size than meals; they are eaten between traditional mealtimes; they involve less preparation and cleanup than a meal and they tend to fall into certain culturally ascribed categories such as single-item produce, bars, packaged sweets, salty, crunchable foods, single-served packaged items and any single-meal component.

The purpose of snacking, and therefore what people eat, changes as the day progresses. Early in the day, consumers tend to be more focused on health and wellness, and restraint feels more manageable with lunch coming right up. Late in the day, in front of the television at home, for example, people tend to indulge more in sweets and other foods that do not necessarily match their aspirations. As one Seattle consumer put it, “I used to eat a big, junky meal and then eat candy and soda throughout the day. Now it’s more split up, and it’s different food. I’m hungry all the time, so I eat all day.”


To learn more, order The Hartman Group 2013 report, “Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors.”

As CEO, Laurie Demeritt provides strategic and operational leadership for The Hartman Group’s research and consulting teams. Laurie and The Hartman Group’s analysts are recognized for their ability to blend primary qualitative, quantitative and trends research to help clients develop successful marketing strategies by understanding the subtle complexities of how consumers live, shop and use products, and how to apply that understanding in ways that lead to purchase. For more about The Hartman Group, visit the website: or contact Blaine Becker, senior director of marketing, at: [email protected]