It’s official. We are a nation of snackers. Snacks take the place of meals. Snacking takes place anytime and anywhere. And most Americans say any food can be a snack. Meals have generally been defined by time, cultural traditions, the appropriate setting, and representation from the various food groups. Now, meals are often created from a collection of snacks. We snack to fuel up. We snack to satisfy a craving. We snack because we are bored or stressed. And of course, we snack because we are busy multi-tasking and often on the move to something more interesting.

While you’d think there are myriad options literally at hand, a 2017 Mintel study showed that 33% of US adults agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks. One might wonder what does that mean?  To understand what constitutes “conveniently packaged” it begs an exploration into people’s snacking behaviors and what constitutes an optimal snacking experience. 

Commitment vs. Grazing

Open a candy bar and you are committed. There is no one leaving a bite behind. But fully committing can be too much for some, leaving them to pass up a treat. Make a bitesize treat that’s “poppable” and present it in packaging with a reclose feature that lets one come and go at will. This offers a sense of permission to indulge, little by little, again and again.

Keep It Clean

No one can deny the popularity of snack bars. Bars are easy because one can hold the bar with the wrapper and take a bite, leaving hands clean. Similarly, small pieces that one can pick up with their fingertips mean less mess. Think chunks, clusters, bites in packaging that opens wide enough for reach-in snacking. This leaves hands ready for phones, driving, and computers. After all, everyone is multitasking – that’s part of what is driving the snacking craze. It’s a desire to keep things moving. One-handed snacking can also be achieved through packaging that stands up for the easy-in reach. This is much appreciated by consumers who eat at their desks or eat in the car with snacks often riding shotgun. For Gen Z consumers, one-handed snacking is optimal as they roam the halls between classes.

Solo or Shareable?

Snacking is often done alone, on-the-go as a way to fuel up and keep moving, and individual tastes must be satisfied, so single serve packs will always have a place. Further, single-serve packs are perceived to be the most portable, given there is nothing to keep up with and bring home. But snacking can also be social. Shareable formats (take one/share one) or multi-serve packaging plays into this. While a standard stand-up pouch (SUP) or similar can service the need, bowl-like formats seem to invite more interaction. One is able to “offer” a bit versus handing off a bag.

Finding Closure

Yes, even on single serve packs, people want a reclose feature. Here, it is not necessarily for freshness. Rather, it is for containment. Face it, we get interrupted. We start a snack, then get a text to jump into a meeting. Kids didn’t finish the snack before soccer? Close it and have it waiting for them after the game. Like with grazing, this has a lot to do with giving permission to start snacking when you know you can always save the rest for later.

Own It!

Snacking can be very personal and it can even be part of one’s identity. Millennials enjoy being the trend makers. Gen Z, the next targeted generation, also respects and seeks out individuality. Think Instagrammable appeal! Whether it is the design of the packaging, the actual food (favoring bold, unexpected flavor combinations and customization) or the way in which one eats it; snacking can make a statement. Packaging that includes a unique ownable element (be it touch, a sound, a unique structure or function) could provide enough intrigue for trial and serve as a valuable brand ambassador.

Calories Count

The typical snack accounts for about 200-300 calories so it is not always held to the same nutritional standards as a meal. And yet, as snacks begin to replace meals, this seems to be shifting for some. Functional snacks, on trend with mindfulness, are seeing growth as people still seek proper nutrition, just on their own terms. With a change of food form or packaging, unexpected “better-for-you” foods could be positioned as a snack. Also emerging are more pairings in bento-box style packaging, such as Balanced Breaks by Sargento, helping a collection of snacks feel more like a meal.

So how does one know what works?

Today, people want (and expect!) to have it all. For snacking on-the-go, there will always be a need for speed while more indulgent evening snacks or sharing occasions are meant to be savored. It’s a packaging play either way with quick and easy access at the core so we can get on with the good stuff.