CHICAGO — Growth in the snack category isn’t news anymore. It’s been happening for the past several years; the pandemic just hit the accelerator … hard. Today, the overall snack category is still growing, according to a trend report from SNAC International, presented by David Walsh, the association’s VP of membership and communications, at Pack Expo International, held Oct. 23-26 in Chicago.

At the heart of growth are consumers, who have set the stage for the category with eating habits that have evolved into the all-day snacking trend.

“We’ve seen how consumers are snacking everywhere and at all times of the day,” Walsh said. “Pre-pandemic, it was all about on-the-go, portability and convenience. Now, with working from home — even schooling from home — snacking from home has become really important, and it’s exploded the category.”

As society moved toward a more post-pandemic way of life, hybrid schedules are maintaining that momentum. While the average consumer snacks 2.7 times per day, the number of people who are snacking five or more times in a day has increased.

With more people focused on health and wellness, the shift toward several smaller meals throughout the day has gained power, especially among millennials and Gen Z. Walsh noted that, according to SNAC’s research, 92% of these consumers are replacing at least one meal per week with just a snack. He also noted that the 18- to 34-year-old age range is driving the snacking frequency trend.

“People are relying a lot more on the snack category,” Walsh said. “This, combined with pre-COVID on-the-go lifestyles, has led to a lot of new innovation.”

Whether it’s functional foods that boost brain power, digestion and heart health, or allergen-friendly alternative ingredients, consumers are combining adventurous eating with healthy habits. That has created a huge landscape of innovation in the snack space where consumers now have exciting options when it comes to making healthy food choices.

“Functional snacks are more important than ever,” Walsh said. “Things like high fiber, protein, calcium-fortified, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants — just to name a few — are finding a home through innovation in the snack category.”

Some popular snack ingredients include cassava for healthy digestion, ashwagandha for immunity and brain health. With these new functional ingredients, consumers are more apt to pay more for snacks they perceive as healthier, according to SNAC International.


Things like high fiber, protein, calcium-fortified, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants — just to name a few — are finding a home for innovation in the snack category.” —David Walsh | VP of membership and communications | SNAC Internationa


Changing consumer demand is also driving innovation for traditional snacks, leading many mainstays to reinvent themselves, especially for consumers who also see indulgence as a form of self-care as part of a healthy lifestyle. One big example is in the tortilla chip category, where many brands are rolling out more “cafe style” thin chips that have a lighter texture and reformulating with cassava and chickpea flour and inclusions like chia and flaxseed.

For consumers, balance is key — that includes health, taste and indulgence. The subcategory that best defines this balance is what IRI calls “other savory snacks, which straddles the line between innovative healthy snacks and the comforting mainstays. Over the past few years, this group has grown to more than $5.5 billion in sales, behind only tortilla chips and potato chips, according to IRI data.

Puffed snacks with exciting flavors often help consumers achieve that balance. It creates a sense of snacking on something indulgent that’s still light and airy, so they don’t’ feel like they’re overeating. Premium and alternative ingredients are also driving consumers’ propensity to spend more for something that helps them achieve their goals.

Walsh noted that touting a healthy halo is a strategy that has helped Veggie Straws from Hain Celestial grow by 22% in dollar sales over the last year. Similarly, he mentioned, Frito-Lay’s Off the Eaten Path brand — with plant-powered ingredients — grew 26%.

“Snacks are contributing to each person’s own sense of healthfulness, immune health, gut health and ‘better for’ lifestyle,” Walsh said. “Consumers are looking for foods that resonate with their own personal values.”