Eating several square snacks a day

By 2008, consumers will be eating more snacks in replacement of formal meals, heralding the ‘meal-snack hybrid’ that combines convenience with the nutrition levels of a meal

Sticking to traditional eating times and formal eating habits is no longer the norm for people across Europe. Indeed, it seems the three-meals-a-day maxim no longer holds true because more consumers are eating out of home and at times to suit their lifestyles.

A report from Datamonitor on eating habits across Europe forecasts that in 2008, there will be 12.9 billion more out-of-home eating occasions in Europe than there were in 2003. Place of work in particular is becoming increasingly important in the “flexi-eating” trend, especially in the UK where workplace consumption will exceed &£5.5bn in value by 2008.

According to the report, consumers will continue to develop more complex and contradictory eating patterns, demanding more convenience products but ones that are are more healthy. The key trends will be “guilt-free indulgence”, “healthy on-the-go” and “casual-indulgence” and taste and flavour preferences will become polarised. These are marketing paradoxes that manufacturers, retailers and marketers will have to address.

The decline in the traditional three meals a day is attributed to the growth in snacking. Consumers will increasingly skip meals, with Americans missing nearly 15 more meals in 2008 than they did in 2003, and Europeans skipping about 12 more. This equates to 1 billion less core mealtime occasions. In the US there will be 16.2 billion more snacking occasions in 2008 than in 2003, and 10 billion more in Europe.

The most-skipped meal tends to be breakfast, with the average European missing 71 breakfasts a year compared with 52 for the average US citizen. Even when consumers are having breakfast at home they are taking less time to prepare it. Manufacturers targeting this mealtime must take into account simple self-preparation when designing their products. The Datamonitor report predicts that there will be 5 billion more skipped breakfasts in Europe in 2008 than there were in 2003, and 3.3 billion more skipped breakfasts in the US.

Europeans are less likely to miss lunch than their US counterparts. The average European missed 14.9 lunch occasions in 2003 compared with 65.7 for the average American. However, this is set to rise in both markets, with Europeans skipping 1.3 billion more lunches in 2008 than last year and Americans skipping 1.9 billion more. Again, manufacturers targeting this mealtime should look to convenient solutions for busy workers who do not have time to stop to eat.

Both American and European consumers are less likely to skip an evening meal than breakfast, and this is because the evening is less affected by the time pressures of everyday life, especially work routines, and is considered the most important and rewarding meal of the day. American consumers, however, are less likely to skip their evening meal than Europeans.

The value and number of on-the-move eating occasions, both snacks and meals, is increasing significantly. The research shows that Americans and Europeans combined will consume 9.1 billion more meals and snacks on the go in 2008 compared with 2003. In value terms, Datamonitor forecasts the European and US market will grow by almost 17 per cent from $34bn (&£18.8bn) in 2003 to $39.7bn (&£22bn) in 2008.

The growing number of out-of-home eating occasions is a lifestyle-driven trend with time-poor consumers looking for innovative meal and snack solutions that can be eaten on the go. UK food manufacturers have had some success by targeting the convenience market, which has led to innovations such as combinations of meal components in a single, easy-to-use pack.

As the line between mealtimes and snacking blurs, there will more opportunities to develop products that serve the emerging middle ground of meal-snack hybrids. These snacks have the potential to be positioned as an important part of people’s daily nutritional intake. These products may be smaller but easier and faster to prepare than meals, yet provide more substantial portions than snacks. Hybrid snacks could also help food companies cater for consumers who like to eat smaller meals more frequently, or those who eat alone.

Consumers’ desire for health and nutritional benefits in meals and snacks means that by using established brands that have trusted and respected health credentials, manufacturers can capitalise on health-conscious European and American consumers over the next five years. Opportunities seem to be particularly strong for trusted dairy and cereal brands.

However, consumers will not compromise on taste and indulgence. In the past, healthier food options suffered from a lack of taste and this is evident in mature consumers, who tend to have a negative attitude to healthy snacks.

Like healthy on-the-go options, demand for guilt-free indulgence represents a clash of two major trends – health and comfort. It is driven by the fact that consumers are prepared to make painless changes, but will not compromise their pleasure for health. Marketers must add better taste and sensory appeal to health-related brands while taking away the guilt associated with indulgent products. This will be particularly important for products aimed at women, given their tendency to feel guiltier about eating indulgent or treat foods.

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