It’s Always Snack Time: Lunch is giving way to all-day grazing

By Asad Amin 

Formal meal times are giving way to low key, all-day grazing. Over the past five years alone, trends observed by the Ipsos Food and Beverage Group indicate that snacking is becoming an increasingly ingrained consumption behaviour amongst Canadians. Reported snack occasions across all venues, in-home and out-of-home, currently account for 67 per cent of all consumption occasions — that’s double the size of traditional meals. Despite that share of eating occasions, snacking habits in foodservice still account for just 32 per cent of foodservice occasions, making the potential upside of expanding into all-day grazing or snacking a boon to forward-thinking operators. This rings especially true when considering that snacks are outpacing regular meal occasions in dollar growth, representing more than $12 billion of the foodservice sector in 2018.

The key to success in the snacking universe is acknowledging that Canadians no longer characterize snacking solely by a pre-defined universe of treat-oriented indulgences. Today, any food or beverage product can be consumed as a snack, from a slice of pizza to a smoothie. Consumers are blurring the lines between what’s a snack and what’s a meal. The type of food matters less now; it’s the timing the counts.

These findings, as well as the following numbers, are sourced from two studies Ipsos Food and Beverage Group studies, including the Ipsos Foodservice Monitor (FSM) consumption tracker, which  continuously tracks what 36,500 Canadians ate and drank the previous day at any given foodservice establishment via a device-agnostic survey, and from the FIVE consumption study, which captures consumption across all venues, including in home, with a sample size of 20,000 Canadians.

Snacking Landscape

As one expects, snacking is most prominent in the QSR channel. Over a third of QSR traffic is attributed to snacking, compared to only ten per cent of FSR traffic. Snacking also accounts for more than 40 per cent of traffic outside of QSR and FSR — in retail, for example. Furthermore, most snacking occurs off-premise, with just 22 per cent of snacking occasions occurring on-premise.

Similar to in-home snacking, the afternoon is the largest snacking daypart in foodservice. In the QSR segment, afternoon snacking represents 16 per cent of traffic and 10 per cent of total dollars, presenting a clear opportunity to drive incremental revenue for operators and manufacturers in the afternoon daypart. But in terms of growth, morning snacking has gained the most in traffic versus other dayparts. Of course, morning snack growth could be an extension of the importance of breakfast at foodservice. The morning time crunch at home continues to drive higher foodservice traffic before lunch. As a result, customers are flocking to restaurants for their morning snacks, either as a replacement or add-on to their breakfast, which incidentally is no longer the most skipped meal of the day. That distinction now belongs to lunch, which helps explain the size and importance of snacking to the afternoon. With work commitments often overlapping the traditional lunch hour, the flexibility and convenience that is granted with grazing can be quite enticing, especially while juggling hunger pangs and professional commitments.

The future of evening snacking could also be quite lucrative, given the explosive growth of foodservice delivery services on offer, as well as with the legalization of cannabis, an area the Ipsos Food and Beverage Group is monitoring with great interest.

Why We Snack

The primary reasons that consumers give for visiting restaurants and other immediate consumption channels for snacking include seeking out a treat and satisfying their cravings — just like at home. Taking a break and portability are key secondary snacking drivers, particularly for daytime snacking. This aligns with the on-the-go locations where people tend to snack the most during the day, including, of course, the car.

When considering a daypart approach to attracting customers looking to graze, however, one needs to consider the different snacking needs that exist throughout the day. The morning snack occasion typically skews towards health, while the evening snack occasion more often veers towards indulgence. We once labelled the afternoon as the battleground where our need to maintain good health clashed with our treat-seeking indulgent cravings, but recent research findings lead us to conclude that the afternoon should be considered the middle ground — a better-for-you-snack will fulfil both health and indulgence needs during this key daypart.

Snacking Sweet Spot

Snacking rates and motivations differ across the lifespan of a typical Canadian. Consumers snack most often when they are young children, tweens or teens, and less often through their thirties and beyond. Older cohorts’ aversion to snacking could be attributed to early imprinted negative impressions towards snacking and its tendency to spoil appetites for traditional meals. Given the ageing of Canada’s population and — trusting an adage — that old habits die hard, it is unlikely that older Canadians will change their snacking behaviour any time soon. Thus, it is vital that foodservice operators and manufacturers work towards building and retaining brand loyalty with their customers and consumers at a young age. As a point of reference, in foodservice, the sweet spot for snacking is among Millennials and Gen Z teens, close to half of whom account for all snacking occasions.

Occasion-Agnostic Snacks

Ipsos data also shows that Millennials are “liquid fuelers,” particularly when evaluating this cohort’s consumption rate of beverages at snacking occasions. Whether consumed alone or with foods, beverages continue to be important to their share of stomach. Significantly, 74 per cent of Millennials consume a beverage when they report snacking. As expected, this is most prominent during the day when they consume coffee. Notable as well is that beverage-only occasions are well developed during foodservice snacking occasions — 38 per cent compared to 10 per cent during traditional meals. This speaks to the importance of having a beverage offering for snacking occasions, either as a traffic driver or as a pairing vehicle for foods.

In line with customer needs, sweet, treat-oriented foods are best developed at snacking occasions within the foodservice market, driven by bakery products (e.g. donuts) and desserts (e.g. ice cream). Nonetheless, there remains a place in foodservice for salty and savoury snacks. For example, hamburgers, French fries, breakfast sandwiches and bagels each rank within the top ten items consumed as a snack at QSR.

Small Plates, Big Opportunity

While most consumers are traditionalists, what is evident is that the younger under-40 cohort is clearly over-developed in consumption of smaller, more frequent meals. As an operator or manufacturer, think about how your offerings can be flexible and adapt to either a mini-meal or a traditional meal. These offerings, unbound by traditional mealtimes, appeal to Millennial and Gen Z cohorts, the former of which continues to drive the highest traffic growth in the foodservice market. Re-positioning a current product or innovation as occasion-agnostic is a first step towards a return on investment. Also, consider beverage offerings, portable packaging, daypart needs, and that the average eater cheque for a snack-based occasion is close to five dollars, about half the industry average for traditional meals.

All-day grazing behaviour is demonstrably different from how customers consume traditional meals and requires a clear product and marketing approach to gain snacking occasions. Our data shows that snacking purchases in the foodservice channel are more impulsive than they are planned. This presents a sizeable opportunity to drive awareness of snacking products that are tailored to the needs of consumers, including by daypart. Snacking is now intertwined with our eating culture and has become essential to daily regimes. Consumers’ middle ground approach to eating through their snack choices all ladder up to increasingly fragmented and specialized needs. The requirement for a customized and personal approach to snacking can drive tremendous growth spaces in the Canadian marketplace

About the Author

Asad Amin is a vice president with Ipsos and leads the firm’s Foodservice Monitor (FSM) and FIVE studies as part of the Ipsos Food and Beverage Group. The Group employs 13 full time researchers. Based in Toronto, Asad leads the team of research experts dedicated to serving the market research needs of the food and beverage industry across Canada. Asad can be contacted at [email protected] or 647-292-1748.