The way we eat meals in the UK is changing by degrees, with more of us going out to work and more of us living on our own and crucially, eating on our own.
The concept of three square meals a day, breakfast, lunch and supper is still important but the reality is that for many of us we are short of time: when hunger strikes, rather than wait until we can eat properly, we want to be cheered up with something that promises satisfaction right now, hence the importance of grazing and nibbling, or snacking.
Not that long ago, when there was a clearer division in terms of consumer grocery shopping behaviour between the multiple grocers and the independents, snacking was a force driving the impulse sector, characterised by consumers of all ages grabbing something on the move for consumption now. The multiples sold snacking products too, but for a different need state, eating at home and relaxing, and the action was all about multipacks and bigger bags.
Then something changed: in the last few years the multiples saw shopping patterns shifting from planned trips to larger supermarkets to more frequent, spontaneous visits to convenience format stores and Sainsbury’s Local, Tesco Metro and Little Waitrose stores sprang up in residential areas, targeting moneyed single working people. And treats, including snacking, were a major focus.
There’s a snack for pretty much every taste and the choice is widening all the time. The last ten years of obesity and heart disease campaigns haven’t taken away our love of a tasty snack: if anything we reward ourselves for being good about what we eat with tasty morsels at other times. And just as in grocery generally we think now of ‘once a week’ foods and foods for every day, so our snacking is going the same way. A generation ago demand for salty bagged snacks was positively exploding: these days we still like a savoury bite, but biscuits are where the action is. And because we like to be reminded that we will get to eat properly sometime, there’s a special place in our hearts for microwaveable hot snacks.
We watch our sodium intake and we’re strict on sugar, but it can get confusing when you’re made aware that a piece of fruit – a healthy snack, you’d think – contains as much sugar as a soft drink. For consumers it ultimately comes down to common sense – while we have freedom to choose what we eat, a little of what you fancy does you good. And for retailers it means there’s a growing incentive to liven up their fixtures with a host of new and exciting snacks from large and small suppliers, to keep consumers coming back for more.