The recent pandemic has left a lasting impact on consumer purchasing behaviour in relation to food and beverages. Consumer habits and attitudes, flavour trends and innovation have all been impacted by these events and casting a spotlight on the US market with the help of research by Innova, we take a deep dive into the snacking trends.

One-third of US consumers overall and 40% of those who have been working from home due to the pandemic claim to have increased snacking in the past year. Additionally, 10-15% believe indulgent treat products are worth paying more for. Indulgent treats have been an important strategy for managing stress and relieving tension related to recent events and treating themselves is among the pandemic lifestyle changes they are likely to continue after the pandemic is over.

Beyond price factors, consumers say freshness (41%), flavour (40%), convenience (28%) and food safety (27%) have become more important over the past 12 months, according to Innova.

Snack flavour trends

With taste such an important factor in decision-making, it is vital to track consumers’ flavour needs and strike a balance between innovative and familiar comforts. A total of 35-40% of consumers express a preference for strong, novel and varied flavours, but at the same time, 20-25% preferred mild, light and traditional tastes – the key takeaway here is variety is crucial in snack innovation.

Morning Snacks

Nearly 60% prioritise healthiness over indulgence when selecting a morning snack, with consumers more likely to opt for cereals and cereal bars, doughnuts, or muffins, fruit, yogurt or pastries. New product launches also see more portable forms, including snackable croissant chips and traditional at home breakfast items like pancakes and cereals in new portable forms like wafers, bars, cookies and mini-sized puffs.

Around half of consumers prefer coffee or sweet flavours for this time of day, with one-third picking fruit flavours like berries and summer fruits, tropical fruits like banana, pineapple or mango or orchard fruits like apple, peach or apricot. Some morning snacks can be found less commonly used flavours like orange, matcha, maple or sweet barbeque.

Afternoon Snacks

Overall snacking has decreased in the afternoon following shifts to working from home. Around half prioritise health, while half seek indulgence when selecting an afternoon snack. Popular snacks considered for the afternoon are chocolate, bread products, cereal or energy bars, yogurt, cakes, pastries or sweet goods according to one-third of consumers.

The rise in plant-based preferences manifests in this time of day: bases like seaweed, vegetables like cauliflower, sweet potato or beets, fruits like breadfruit, plantains or bananas, and peas, lentils or cassava all featuring in launches in 2021. New entries include high protein and calorie-controlled portions, appealing to consumers’ health consciousness. Interestingly, on the flavour side some entries tout fiery hot or international tastes, with nuts in particularly experiencing a flavour transformation.

Evening Snacks

The time of day which has suffered most with the work from home movement, consumers are having a split view of healthiness and indulgence. The modern nostalgia trend manifests during this time, with many seeking new forms of familiar favourites.

Taste preferences during the evening are diverse for evening snacks, with 40% or more also choosing flavours that are chocolate, caramel or creamy and savoury ones like meat, cheese, spicy, smoky and vegetable. New flavours on the radar include indulgent dark chocolate, chocolate brownie, fudge drizzle, salted caramel and birthday cake flavoured entries, while sweet seasonal flavours like pumpkin spice and spicy tastes like taco or Texas barbeque also joining store shelves.

On-the-go Snacking

Health has edged out indulgence in the US for on-the-go- snacking, with 40% and 30% respectively prioritising these preferences. Category preferences skew similarly to morning snacks with 40% choosing bread products like muffins or doughnuts and 20% picking cereal or energy bars, fruit, or chocolate for on-the-go occasions.

As expected, portability is a focus for many new launches, into formats like bars, wafers and other bite-sized formats. Flavour-wise coffee dominates, with recent trendy flavours including lime, pepper jack, taco and birthday cake also appearing. As well as the contents being important for consumers, they are increasingly conscious of packaging materials and their recyclability credentials.

Snacks for Children

As many would expect, caregivers are preferring healthy snacks for kids. While no single category is prominent in terms of preference among these caregivers, recent launches include benefits like high protein, easy digestion and sweet or savoury snacks specifically designed for babies or toddlers.

As well as sweet and brown flavours being typically chosen for children, new products seen new to market offer sensory textures like popping, animal shapes like worms or baby sharks, gross analogies like unicorn poop and play value forms like pull-apart, letters or colourable packaging.

What next?

Undoubtedly, Covid-19’s impact on consumers has affected their snacking habits, with increased flavour experimentation and more at-home snacking, following evidence suggesting that 44% of consumers will expect to work from home three days or more in the next twelve months.

Interesting new flavours like lime, dill, sea salt, salted caramel and jalapeno have been popular in new launches in the past year. Single-serve packages will pique consumers’ interest in freshness, which includes even single-serve dessert portions. The balance between indulgence and better-for-you options will continue, with consumers seeking solutions that do not require compromising taste for nutrition. Plant-based snacking will rise, with non-wheat, corn or potato bases and growing variety in plant alternatives. Offering snacks with functional benefits give consumers the quick-hit they are craving, with products with claims including high protein, mood or immune-boosting queue likely to spike interest.

Discover snacks consumers want with Bakels

Every day we support customers in meeting the needs of consumers across the world and providing ingredients to support snacking trends is no different. Whether indulgence or health-focussed solutions are required, Bakels have a wide range of options to satisfy today’s consumer.

Bakels’ high-fruit content fruit fillings are produced at our Belgium specialist facility, ideal for snack products like pastries and cakes. The ready-to-use products are suitable for vegan applications and deliver flavour and textural delights for consumers.

As mentioned, brown flavours are popular and Bakels are perfectly placed to produce a whole host of caramels. The dedicated high temperature boiling line at our British manufacturing company enables us to offer caramels according to varied applications, from Millionaires Caramel for sliced lines, doughnuts and muffins, to low water activity versions for cereal bars. Low sugar solutions strike a delicious balance between indulgence and healthiness of snacking products.

Meanwhile various plant-based innovations are also available, including meat alternatives produced in Switzerland for an increasingly number of consumers adopting vegan diets.

Sources: Innova: Trends Insider – Snacking US 2021, Innova: Innova Lifestyle & Attitudes 2021, Innova Trends Survey 2021 (average of 11 countries), Innova 2021 – Press release: variety a must for snack happiness.