The Changing World of Snack Food

Technology and mindful snacking aim to impact America’s snack habit.

July 25, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—One of the biggest challenges in the future will be getting consumers to ask for a product by brand name, according to a story in Confectionery News. That’s because the coming retail landscape will be monitored by filters like the information filter installed by Facebook, "which decides what we see and what we don’t," ​said Steven van Belleghem, a thought leader on customer relationships and marketing.

"If you take the hypothesis that more people will use these filters to buy products in a more convenient way, one of the challenges for the snack industry is to make sure that people don't ask for a ‘healthy snack,’ but rather ask for the specific brand of that healthy snack," van Belleghem said.

There are two things that a retailer can do for customers— save them time or enhance their time, both online and offline. Retailing is moving into a world of “direct delivery,” where convenience is important, he noted, and “Retailers that understand that the scarcest resource of consumers is their time, will be the ones that win.”

“If you think about the retail store, you can use the store to save time, making sure that people don't have to wait in line to pick up stuff they ordered online,” van Belleghem

Snack producers have five to seven years to become the kind of brand that people specifically ask for by name. That means investing in the power of the brand more than they’ve done previously, rather than focusing on short-term results. “That was really valuable in the past, but if you have a product and brand filter, you will need to have a strong brand to get through that filter,” he said.

Meanwhile, some food producers are promoting the concept of mindful snacking, which is the practice of slowly and deliberately eating food, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Mindful snacking is being touted by companies that want health-conscious consumers to know that it’s okay to enjoy cookies, crackers and other treats. Earlier this month, about two dozen employees from Mondelez International’s headquarters faced a wall decorated with pictures of the company’s snack brands, including Oreo cookies, Triscuit crackers, Swedish Fish candy and Cadbury chocolate. They were in a workshop to learn about eating those foods in a different way.

Claire Mark, a meditation instructor, led the class, telling participants to close their eyes and chew their snack samples slowly. “Try to bring in a deeper level of awareness to the muscles that it takes to chew, to the physical experience of having food in your mouth, to recognize how it feels to swallow,” she said. After a pause, the group repeated the process for each of the remaining bites needed to finish off two crackers.

“It’s about learning how to enjoy and get more pleasure and satisfaction from how you eat our snacks and even why you eat our snacks,” said Chris McGrath, chief of global impact, sustainability and well-being, Mondelez. “This is us leading the future for our consumers to continue to build and have a healthy relationship with their snacking behavior and for us to help them love our brands.”

By 2025, Mondelez will include “snack mindfully” tips on all packaging worldwide. The tips advise snackers to minimize distractions, focus on the smell and taste, use a non-dominant hand, notice textures, chew thoroughly and finish one bite before starting the next.

Mondelez says it doesn’t worry that teaching consumers to eat its snacks in moderation will lower sales. The company studied what it calls a “pleasure-guilt paradox,” which involves consumers enjoying an indulgent snack initially, but then feeling guilty if they overdo it.

“They just lose track, get distracted and then all of a sudden the bag is gone,” said McGrath. “Some consumers will say ‘I can’t even bring them into the house because I can’t control myself.’”

Mindful eating emphasizes awareness of physical hunger and satiety cues. “So many times, people reach for food based on signals other than hunger. They’re bored, stressed or lonely,” said Lynn Rossy, president of the Center for Mindful Eating, a web-based forum for health-care professionals and individuals. “Part of mindful eating is stopping before you eat to ask, ‘am I hungry?’”

Mindful snacking contrasts with Americans’ voracious snacking habit. Some 56% of snack-food eating occasions are motivated by emotional needs, according to The NPD Group, a market-research firm. Last year, NPD reported that Americans per capita snacked between meals 429 times, 19 more times than in 2008.

Wonderful Co. promotes its pistachios as the “mindful nut” and highlights “the pistachio principle.” In 2011, academic studies found that participants who consumed in-shell pistachios ate 41% fewer calories compared with those who consumed shelled pistachios. Shelling each pistachio led to slower consumption, and those empty shells were a physical reminder about how much has been consumed.