Culinary Trends

The Rise and Rise of Snacking

May 21, 2024

The Rise and Rise of Snacking

Traditional mealtimes and portions are increasingly out the door as people embrace snacking and shopping for the immediate need. Simplot’s Food For Thought looks at this evolving trend and the ways in which the food industry is adapting to a new normal. For a wide variety of reasons, Australians are becoming less attached to defined mealtimes. For some people, a hectic lifestyle makes eating on the go a more viable option. For others, popular new diets that dictate smaller meals to be consumed more often may be the driver. Others still are using snacking as a way to ensure they achieve an optimum daily nutrient intake. Food groups that may otherwise be under-represented in their diets, such as nuts, fruit and whole grains, can be excellent choices for snacking purposes. A growing diversity of food options could also be playing a role.

Put simply, we’ve never been more spoiled for choice when it comes to flavours, cuisines and eating experiences.

It’s tricky to walk through any of our major cities and not be taken in by some of the amazing food aromas that spill from restaurants, cafes and street vendors. What’s clear is there are myriad reasons for the rise of snacking. And it’s the traditional meal that is making way for this less formal approach to satiating hunger.

Data and the way we dine

While statistics around the decline of traditional mealtimes in Australia are scant, data from several American bodies paints a powerful picture of change that is likely to be universal to the Western way of life. For example, a poll that was co-run by the Harvard School of Public Health found that busy family schedules — longer and less predictable working hours for adults, and extracurricular activities for kids — are cutting into family dinner time, with 46 percent of people polled saying that eating together on a regular basis is a challenge. Newly published research from the renowned NYU School of Medicine found that the frequency of family dinners had declined by a significant 33 percent in the past 20 years.

“Snack foods are growing because they encompass many overarching trends like convenience, protein, better-for-you options and healthful eating,” president of the US Specialty Food Association, Phil Kafarakis, told Forbes magazine recently. The publication also quoted a prediction from food scientist PJ Pawelek around the continued growth of snacking.

“The past 10 years have shown an increase in convenient snacking options as meal replacements,” said Pawelek. “I would expect this trend to continue and further challenge the traditional daily meal structure.” In its 2018 report on food demand, the federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources stated that Australians increased the amount of money they spent on meals prepared outside the home from 25% in the 1980s to more than a third of household food expenditure today. Alongside this data is evidence that the “snackification” of mealtimes is being driven and supported by packaged food manufacturers, who perhaps sense our ever-busier schedules have created a big opportunity for on-the-go snack options. In early 2019, market research giant Euromonitor confirmed this shift. “If you look at the progression of global packaged food over the past decade, you can see that snacks are gaining market share,” said its senior analyst, Jared Koerten. Relative to traditional food staples, Koerten noted that an astonishing

$16b has shifted to packaged snack foods in that time, equating to nearly a quarter of all packaged food sales.

Making sense of a snack-based landscape

Traditionally, the hospitality industry has thrived on predictability. It has to — opening premises and staffing both the front and back of house are costly and require a co-ordinated effort by a lot of people. A move towards snacking by consumers has the potential to undermine the viability of a restaurant or cafe that operates on a strict breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule. Conversely, it provides a significant opportunity for businesses that can accommodate evolving preferences around dining times. For a couple of generations now, the fast-food industry has plugged that gap with its promise of food on demand. But even that sector is in upheaval, struggling to meet a tidal challenge around health and nutrition as community expectations of healthier food grow.

Of course, delivery services have been a game changer when it comes to meeting the needs of diners who wish to eat anytime, anywhere — it’s never been easier to eat when one chooses.

The arrival of so-called dark kitchens — purpose-built back-of-house facilities that can operate with efficiency over longer hours — has helped support this new consumer expectation. Delivery services confirm they receive a significant number of orders late in the evening, for example. An Uber Australia spokesperson told Simplot’s Food For Thought that French fries were the most popular dish ordered through the UberEATS app in 2019, and that the peak time to order a late-night snack was 11pm. And perhaps not surprisingly, the most ordered food after midnight by UberEATS users in Australia was a snack — the Halal snack pack or HSP.

Welcome to peak snackification

In mid 2019, BP petrol stations teamed up with UberEATS to create Couchfood, an on-demand service offering salty snacks, lollies, chocolates and even milk and bread to a busy generation that has been groomed on convenience. BP says it is tapping into the millennial mindset and food ordering behaviour as it seeks to profit from the changing habits of its customers. Notably, the Couchfood service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The concept is currently in its trial stages and available from a limited number of BP outlets but BP says it is seeing “considerable demand for a wide range of snacks and drinks from customers wanting to order from the comfort of their couch.”

If Couchfood is a success, it will be clear the community has fully embraced the idea of eating on demand.