Pinning down exactly why, how and when your customers snack is the key to making the most of new snacking trends, according to new research
In a survey conducted by Mondelez International in association with Caterer and Hotelkeeper, the Cadbury, Kenco and Philadelphia manufacturer asked caterers, hoteliers and restaurant owners about their snacking sales and selling practices. Respondents were asked what their customers especially look for, and how they themselves make the most of their snacking offer.
A clear majority of respondents agreed that snacking was on the increase (85%). This is mainly due to time pressures (54%), busy lifestyles (25%) and work issues (14%).
Often, snacking on two or three items is starting to replace meals, as customers are ever more on the lookout for the best grab and go choices. Indeed, 17% of sales were already found to come from meal replacement, a figure that rose to 26% in the contract catering sector. And 59% of respondents felt that snacks were replacing meal sales altogether.
There is especially room for improvement when it comes to breakfast; a potent trend not only for contract caterers but also hotels. For example, customers who may wish to check out early, or who don't have time for a sit-down breakfast, might be only too happy to grab a quick option on checkout.
In that instance, not only would they look for a hot drink, but they might also be tempted by a breakfast biscuit, a bottle of juice and a piece of fruit.
In this way, the concept of the snack has actually become about full meals, not just the single packet of crisps or cheeky chocolate bar after lunch.
According to Susan Nash, trade communication manager for Mondelez International: "It's about giving the consumer inspiration. There's a real variety of options. The consumer really needs to feel they're getting value for their money."
This applies at other times of the day too. Offers were found to be especially useful sales tools among respondents. Almost two- thirds said that meal deals were a key method of boosting sales, just behind staff upselling and the displaying of snacks at the till.
Indeed, arguably the most important thing is to pin down exactly why and how your customers are snacking.
In line with the growing popularity for grab and go breakfasts, respondents felt that customers were increasingly looking for fuel (expected by respondents to increase in demand by 28% in future), as well as the traditional treats (for which demand is predicted to decrease by 29%).
Similarly, the survey results also strongly demonstrated how important time of day is to people's snacking habits. As expected, in the early and late morning, and early afternoon, people are likely to look for fuel and a boost. From late afternoon, this tails off, with people far more likely to look for a treat in the evening than at any other time of day.
When combined with people's increased tendency to choose snacks over traditional meals, this presents a clear opportunity for retailers to mix things up.
Nash suggested: "Retailers can be quite creative in this area: fruit, croissants, breakfast biscuits, crisps, nuts, crackers. They just need to consider the consumer and maximise that opportunity."
This also extends to details such as where most of your customers are taking their snacks once they've bought them. Are they on the train, or in the car? Have you provided napkins? Coffee holders?
"People are looking for value. It's not necessarily about absolute price," says Nash.
This extends to meal deals and easy grab and go choices, where cost may be slightly higher than buying a single snack item, but also relates to people's preference for the familiar, such as branded products.
Three-quarters (75%) of retailers agreed that customers would rather buy a branded snack than an unbranded one.
"People like to know what they're going to get," explains Nash. "It takes the risk out of the purchase. If people have little time, they want to enjoy the thing they do snack on."
Customers also appear to be looking for more nutritional information, with retailers becoming more aware of people's increased preoccupation with eating more healthily - 84% of respondents agreed that there is a growing demand for healthier on-the-go products.
When it comes to snacking, it's clear: focus on meal deals, give great value for money, offer brands people recognise, and never forget why your customer is snacking in the first place.
Snacking. It's so much more than the 3pm slump.