Snacking Trends 101: How Snacks are Becoming a Meal Replacement
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Snacks suit today’s lifestyle trends
Consumers seek portable bites, small plates that offer nutrition and flavorful rewards as snacks.
Snacking has evolved to become its own daypart, as consumers increasingly nosh between meals and combine multiple snacks or appetizers as a meal replacement.
Consumers, particularly those in the younger generations, often snack several times per day, according to reports, and have broadened their definition of what constitutes a snack. In a recent survey by culinary trends research firm Datassential, consumers on average said that they had eaten four to five snacks on the previous day.
Snacking satisfies a host of consumer needs, from quelling between-meal hunger pangs to providing the sheer pleasure of a reward.
Busy lifestyles driving trends
In many ways the busy lifestyles of today’s consumers are helping to drive snacking trends. One-fourth of high-frequency snackers — those who snack three to four or more times a day — claim to be too busy to eat a full meal, according to research firm Mintel.
“Consumers are driven to increased snacking throughout the day to adapt to the ever-increasing hectic lifestyle pace,” says Dale Miller of Master Chef Consulting, Clifton Park, N.Y. “Others are turning to healthier snacks over the three-meal-a-day routine because they perceive it as a better solution than dieting.”
Today’s mindful consumers are often eating snacks with a dual mindset — seeking healthful fare which also provides rewarding flavors.
Plant-based snack foods, bite-sized snacks that offer convenience, and spicy and exotic-flavored snacks are dominating the snacking trend, says Miller.
Quick-service and fast-casual operators have been adding small, hand-held bites to their menus to accommodate growing demand, while full-service restaurants have been expanding their selection of appetizers and offering more shareable, tapas-style menu items.
Snacks and appetizers present opportunities for operators to drive incremental, high-margin sales, particularly between traditional meal periods, says Miller.
“By capitalizing on convenience, healthy options, and unique and intense global flavors, restaurants can take advantage of this current shift in our eating habits,” he says.
Dressing up snacks
Appetizers and snacks can often be made more appealing by using salad dressings as part of the ingredient mix. Indeed, salad dressings can play an important role in helping operators capitalize on consumer interest in snacking, says Miller of Master Chef Consulting. Dressings that incorporate global flavors such as tahini, wasabi, miso, peri peri or za’atar can bolster the appeal of snack and appetizer dishes, as can the use of trend-forward ingredients such as turmeric, matcha, hibiscus, cauliflower or kombucha.
Miller cites the following snacks and appetizer menu items which incorporate dressings:
Avocado, melon, cucumber and BBQ pulled jackfruit summer rolls with a cilantro-wasabi dressing.
- Mediterranean Cobb salad snack kit with grilled chicken, avocado, tomatoes and feta, with a za’atar vinaigrette.
- Grab-and-go South African chicken salad snack in a Mason jar with peri peri lime vinaigrette.
- Roasted sweet potato wedges with a matcha green goddess dressing.
- Vegetable crudité with a roasted cauliflower BBQ ranch.
The Daily Meal suggests that ranch dressing can be combined with mashed avocados to create a dip. The website also recommends tossing some cut tomatoes in Italian salad dressing and placing them on toasted slices of bread as a quick-and-easy bruschetta-style appetizer.
Datassential notes that authentic ethnic and globally inspired offerings have surged on operators’ appetizer menus, as have comfort foods, vegetable-centric apps and small plates of artisan meats and cheeses.
Some examples of trending appetizer ingredients include:
- Authentic ethnic and globally inspired offerings: shishito peppers, poke bowls, elote, papa a la huancaina, chicharron, and bao.
- Southern cuisine and comfort foods: tater tots, cheese curds, poutine, hush puppy, fried green tomato, and deviled eggs.
- Vegetable-centric appetizers: avocado toast, bacon-wrapped dates, quinoa salad, Brussels sprouts, farro salad, crudités, ratatouille, fried cauliflower, agedashi, tostones, and non-potato chips such as taro.
- Artisan/premium meat and cheese small-plate style offerings: charcuterie, burrata, salumi, foie gras, rillettes, and mezze.
Snacking as a meal
Consumers are also combining traditional snacks and appetizer items to create meals, often meant to be shared.
At Acorn in Denver, for example, all dishes are meant to be shared, and some of the most popular include lighter dishes such as kale and apple salad with candied almond, grana padano, togarashi and lemon vinaigrette; and hamachi with carrot, radish, wakame, cilantro and orange ponzu, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
“It’s interesting that the movement is away from three meals and toward food that can be enjoyed in good company,” says Nicky Kruse, strategist for San Francisco-based restaurant consulting firm The Culinary Edge.
Rethinking the menu with a focus on smaller, appetizer-sized items and shareable small plates that appeal to today’s snacking consumers can be a boon to an operator’s business, and salad dressings help provide the flavors these consumers are looking for.