Friday, June 23, 2023

Defining a Meal or Meal Period is Up to the Customer


Business model be dammed! Today consumers what to eat what they want when they want it.  No, they do not what a three-course dinner served between 6 PM and 8 PM every night.  According to Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® who stated, “consumers want to mix and match meal components from different dayparts and combine them in to a meal of there choice when and where they want it.”

Rules and time table have slipped away replaced by consumer choice. So, after contending with an unprecedented and tumultuous two years of the coronavirus and then shifting into a post-pandemic world, coupled with the economic pressures brought on by inflation, today's consumers want to live life on their own terms — especially when it comes to choosing why and how they snack.

Americans have increasingly turned to what was once considered snacking to fulfill different needs in their lives, whether it's meal replacement, a sense of comfort or rewarding themselves. Taste, health and value are evergreen food needs, but these attributes are reflected differently today when it comes to snack choices and how certain food or snack choices impact consumers' wellbeing.

Dan Meyer, consumer insight manager for convenience stores at General Mills, stated, "Consumers seem to be bringing emotion into eating like we have never seen before,"…. "As consumers have gone through a health pandemic, they are more willing to indulge in foods that bring them joy. They are willing to forgive themselves and offset their indulgence somewhere else, e.g., skipping a meal or eating healthier at a different time of day."

As for what's currently trending, Meyer cites recent data that shows both the sweet snack and salty snack categories are growing, while better-for-you is on the decline. (There you go, Rules be dammed.)

He relayed that there is less avoidance right now among consumers, who are curbing restrictions around what they perceive as "bad" for them, like sugar and carbs, and "unashamedly snacking on what they want" and "living for today."

By living life on their own terms, consumers are absorbing rising costs when it comes to enjoying their favorite snacks. But because they're probably cutting back in other areas, snacking is one indulgence that can be a quick, easy and affordable part of consumers' days.

Liz Williams, CEO of Chicago-based Foxtrot, stated, "When you're hungry and want something quick, easy and delicious, you grab a treat. You might be making sacrifices on the weekend when you're doing your major food shopping, but by Wednesday, when you're out and about and you want a quick snack, you're not willing to sacrifice that,".   a retailer that marries the best of neighborhood retail and e-commerce technology to create a community of discovery.

Now let’s look at some recent numbers, during 2020 and into 2021, as living and working from home became more continuous, consumers partaking in three-plus snacks per day increased 3 percentage points to 45 percent of consumers, Circana's "2023 Snacking Survey" found.

Moving through 2021 to today, school-aged kids have gone back to in-person learning five days a week, and many adults have returned to an in-person workforce. However, hybrid working continues for 60 million people and could be anywhere from one to five days per week.

Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, client insights for Chicago-based Circana, stated, "When this occurred, everyone thought that snacking would revert back to pre-COVID levels. However, we have seen an uptick in snacking consumption. Forty-nine percent say they are snacking three-plus snacks per day, which is up 4 percentage points in two years,"

"Snacking is a lifestyle in the U.S. COVID didn't impede this fact, it accelerated it. Consumers are prioritizing snacking because it is how they eat and drink across the day, from early morning to late night," Lyons explained.

Johnson calls that mix and match meal component bunding while Foxtrot's Williams refers to this circular lifestyle as "clockless eating." No mater what you call it the options of meals, meal components, and time of day that your service them is evolving. 

Lyons went on to say that, "The snacking category continues to grow and COVID-19 didn't alter that in the sense that snacks have grown pre-COVID, during COVID and post-COVID," she said. "Snacking is an occasion over the years that has grown into 'clockless eating,' whereby we're not eating squared meals and snacking permeates throughout the day."

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With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest shift in snacking occurred around the draw of at-home consumption vs. on the go. But, as more consumers are out of the house post-COVID, this is influencing the way snacks are consumed.

Williams went on to say, "It used to be ease and convenience were the important factors — getting in and getting out or, during COVID, getting delivery was the key part of the experience. Now, speed and convenience are still important, but service and experience are also part of snacking more so," …"Grabbing a snack in a place that has a good atmosphere, is welcoming, is clean and has good customer service is important as more consumers are out and about in the world."

One purchasing trend that was exasperated by the pandemic is consumers buying snacks online and getting them delivered to their doorstep at the click of a button. Consumers have more options online, such as pack sizes and perceived value, giving them the opportunity to choose larger count sizes to dole out their snack portions over time vs. the single-serve sizing that is most prevalent at convenience stores.

"This will likely shift again once consumers are more on the go," General Mills' Meyer predicts.

Regular readers of this blog know that Gen Z and Millennials continue to look for discovery in what, where, and how they eat. Still, as consumers continue to bring emotion into eating — particularly when snacking — c-stores are well positioned to offer options that spark joy or will surprise and delight them. "It's like an individual treasure hunt where consumers can find snacks 'just for me' that they can't get anywhere else," Meyer said.

Don’t simply offer meals at legacy meal periods, sell what the customer wants when they want it. So much of today's shopping experience is hyper-personalized with mobile apps and online experiences that cue up offers and products to consumers that are "just for them." Consumer communication and partnerships with in-store apps and digital play into this and can help retailers capture that next purchase by the shopper.

Success does leave clues. One clue that time and time again continues to resurface is “the consumer is dynamic not static”.  Regular readers of this blog know that is the common refrain of Steven Johnson, Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®.  Our Grocerant Guru® can help your company edify your brand with relevance.  Call 253-759-7869 for more information. 

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