PHOENIX — A lot has changed since the beginning of the decade, and snacking is no exception. Although this staple eating occasion won’t be going anywhere any time soon, it has morphed alongside all human behavior during the pandemic.

Davey McHenry, senior VP of operations for the Hartman Group, knows this firsthand. In her presentation at SNX, being held March 27-29 in Phoenix, AZ, she dove into how companies can navigate the rapid evolution of snacking, and how they can get consumers to choose them when they’re browsing the grocery aisles online or in-person.

Davey McHenry discusses the evolving culture of snacking at SNX in Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Liz Goodwin for Commercial Baking.


The Hartman Group is a research and consulting firm focused on all things food and beverage, including what consumers want and need out of their food choices. For snacks, demand is high: 48% of eating occasions are snacking occasions, and it’s even higher for Gen Z consumers at 53%.

Not only has the behavior increased, but it’s also expanded. More things count as snacks in the eyes of consumers, from pastries to crackers to a bite of leftover Chinese takeout.

“There’s a great variety of the types of snacks consumers are having today,” McHenry said. “It’s no longer traditional snack foods or categories. Consumers are going to the fridge more often and pulling out a quick bite for that small bit of sustenance that’s needed.”


As snacking is happening more often and in new ways, consumers are approaching snacking as a solution to new needs. The ideas of food as medicine and the importance of customization have changed the game for both formulation and presentation. And these factors are colliding with nostalgic comforts that consumers know and love.

“The great thing about snacking is that it’s so personalized, which can help consumers meet the needs for each member in their household,” McHenry said. “There’s also the idea of food as medicine to support our performance in every day. It’s not about elite athletes. Its about people who want to be the best at work and with their family.”

There’s also an increase of accessibility to these better-for-you (BFY) foods through private-label brands. What once was seen as ‘less than’ compared to household branded products is enjoying a renaissance with consumers, and it’s now being seen as an affordable option that meets their unique needs.


All these factors are intertwined with the four core elements of modern snacking: optimization, pleasure, nourishment and distraction. While all four of these elements are equally critical, distraction has risen in prevalence since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We couldn’t ignore it in 2020,” McHenry said. “It’s a type of snacking that’s riddled with tension and often occurs because they are bored or stressed. It’s turned into a ‘snaccident,’ where consumers will go to make their kids lunch and then the whole thing of Girl Scout cookies is gone.”

When it comes to deciding the marketing angle for a snacking product, its all about finding balance between these factors. Figuring out what daypart you are targeting, such as a mid-morning or late-night snack, and how that intersects with the four elements is what will help you achieve a recipe for success.

But no matter what, it must taste good.

“Adding something new and combining it with something the consumer can identify with is great,” McHenry said. “But taste will always be the most important.”