In more ways than can perhaps be counted, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Americans to change the ways they operate on a day-to-day basis. This is noticeable in obvious ways, as in transportation and working from home, but it’s also become noticeable in how we eat, what we eat, and how our food is processed. The rise of nonstandard schedules and generally being home more often has led many people to adopt new eating habits and find new kinds of foods. Some of the biggest trends and changes in the realm of how and what we eat are related to snack foods.
Snack Foods as Replacement Meals
Even before the onset of the pandemic, the concept of discrete meals at specific times of day had started to become less dominant. In the last few years, however, lockdowns and unusual schedules drove many people to graze throughout the day on foods that require little prep and not much planning. This of course meant that primarily unhealthy snack foods became a significant part of a daily diet for a lot of Americans. In fact, one of the biggest trends to emerge from the pandemic is the idea of snack foods simply replacing regular meals.
As something approaching “normalcy” has started to return in many places around the United States, the desire for convenience and flexibility has remained. People particularly in younger generations seem content to stick to the trend; indeed, according to surveys, 70% of millennials said they preferred snacks to meals, and 7% of all people said that they no longer eat formal meals. Yet even as snack foods become a bigger part of the American diet, the desire for healthy versions has increased as well.
In light of these changes, snack food manufacturers have responded by putting a greater emphasis on snack foods that are healthier and higher in nutritional content with fruit ingredients like blueberries and cranberries. Chips and cookies will always be in high demand, but more and more people are recognizing the value of healthy snacks. In fact, the leading category in healthy snacks is nuts, seeds, and trail mix, and that is followed by protein bars. Protein in particular has become a key driver of sales across the board and in many different categories of snack foods.
Snacks as “Mood Food”
There’s no doubt that pandemic-related isolation and lockdowns took a toll on mental health over the past couple years. The snack foods we all turned to may have replaced meals in some cases, but they also were there to help us feel better and hopefully improve our mood. Some estimates indicate that the average U.S. consumer ate over 37% more snack foods while feeling sad or depressed compared to 2019.
Of course many traditional snack foods tend to be high in sugar or other simple carbohydrates, and that also means that they are less healthy and more likely to contribute to overweight and obesity. In light of this, many manufacturers are introducing a variety of new options that are lower in sugar or higher in other attributes. Blends of various fruits, for example, can simultaneously improve one's mood while also delivering loads of helpful nutrients. Additionally, there is a growing market for products that utilize CBD and nootropics, ingredients that are believed to improve mood and other emotional and cognitive aspects.
New, Global Flavors
Another obviously challenging aspect of the pandemic has been the lack of ability to travel. But in absence of the ability to travel, many people chose to scratch that itch through cooking new kinds of food and exploring new flavors. You might not have been able to travel to Mexico, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some zesty red or green jalapeños. One of the ways manufacturers attempted to address this desire was through subscription snack boxes that offered flavors and textures from other cultures around the world. With travel still not an option for some people, the ability to let your tastebuds travel instead has brought more snacks into more global households.
Plant-Based Foods Become More Popular
One of the newest trends in both snack foods and food in general is a stronger emphasis on plant-based foods and ingredients. Most consumers cite health reasons as the main reason to eat vegetarian or vegan diets, in large part because plant-based options don’t have any of the animal fats that are associated with obesity-related health conditions. Kale, for example, has long been known as a super food with many powerful health benefits. Also, plant-based foods are much more sustainable to grow and produce than animal products. This has made plant-based snack foods much more available than ever before.
Big and Bold Flavors
Flavor has always been a driver of sales for all kinds of foods at all kinds of price points. By contrast, the expectations for snack foods have traditionally been less about flavor and more about convenience and cost. In recent years, however, the demand for flavor has led to bold new flavors and combinations. Fruit flavors, for instance, used to include standards like strawberry or lemon, but now exotic fruits like mango, passion fruit, and papaya have become norms and an expectation for different kinds of products.
It’s All About the Ingredients
It’s clear from the data that one of the most significant overarching trends in snack foods is that quality matters. Gone are the days when the munchies could be satisfied with a piece of gas station beef jerky or a bag of greasy chips. The COVID-19 pandemic took a nascent healthy snacking trend and turned it into a totally new mandate for how and when we eat. And part of this new mandate is the expectation that high quality, complex flavored snack foods can be robust enough to replace a standard meal.
At Silva International, providing high quality ingredients is what we’ve always done, regardless of where the trends have gone. Snack foods will likely continue to be a significant factor in the day-to-day eating habits of different kinds of Americans. Silva offers the highest quality and healthiest ingredients that can meet any of the evolving needs of the snack food industry. To learn more about what we offer and how we can partner with you, please contact us today.