Snack attack: modular eating is on the rise

Over a third of consumers globally say they snack regularly, with the figure rising to just over 40% for those aged 18-34, as the practice of modular eating becomes more popular. Katie Woodward finds out more about changing consumer habits.


The concept of having breakfast, lunch, and dinner as three main meals in a day is becoming a thing of the past, as today’s consumers are turning to snacking as a way to get the nutritional boosts they need throughout the day. This is especially affecting those in the 18-34 age group.

As lifestyles become increasingly hectic and technology developments mean that many never truly ‘leave the office’, for some consumers snacks provide a necessary energy boost as time restraints prevent them from consuming three main meals a day.

Consumers also turn to snacks during social occasions, such as watching a movie or attending a sporting event, where smaller, bite-sized food is more appropriate than a larger meal. We find out why consumers are turning to snacks to fulfil a wider range of needs and occasions.

Time constraints

In a 2016 report titled ‘Top Trends in Snacks, Confectionery, and Desserts: Exploring consumer and innovation trends in key categories’, GlobalData analyst Katrina Diamonon explains how snacking has become a routine part of everyday consumption behaviours. In terms of snacking frequency, the vast majority of global consumers are either regular (34%) or occasional (44%) snackers, with those aged 18-34 being the most voracious snackers.

Modern lifestyles are typically characterised by a lack of time, either perceived or actual, to carry out household tasks such as shopping and cooking. Many of today’s consumers feel that they do not have as much time as they would like to spend on preparing meals, and so they are increasingly turning to snacks as a time-saving way to eat food.

For those working in demanding jobs, the lunch hour has been reduced to a salad munched at the desk or a sandwich scoffed on the go, and so convenience in food has become highly valuable. Fast-paced lifestyles mean that fewer consumers eat their meals at home, while just under a quarter of consumers now eat breakfast at work or during the morning commute.

Stress relief and indulgence

Despite the continued prevalence of the clean eating trend, the need for an occasional unhealthy or indulgent treat will continue to plague even the most health-conscious consumer. Hectic or taxing lifestyles similarly encourage consumers to snack as a way to relieve stress or as a reward for achieving a particularly hard task at work. The need to de-stress or indulge is a psychological one, and many consumers use snacking as a way to satisfy this emotional need.

A recent Mintel report found that just under a quarter (23%) of consumers say they snack or comfort eat to cheer themselves up, while almost one in five (18%) snack to de-stress or relax. This tendency to use snacking to boost their mood is more prevalent in younger consumers, who also admit to snacking in order to overcome boredom.

Senior food and drink analyst at Mintel Amy Price says: “Our research shows that younger consumers are most likely to snack due, in part, to older consumers seeing a loss of appetite as they age, as well as older generations having experienced more traditional upbringings where eating three square meals a day was the norm.

"Today, the busier lifestyles of younger consumers is eroding the rigidity of traditional mealtimes.”

Social occasions  

Snacking is not just dictated by the physical and emotional needs of consumers; it is also dictated by occasion. Watching a film, going to a rugby match, or socialising with friends are all occasions where snack foods are more appropriate than a sit-down, three-course meal.

According to GlobalData, 41% of consumers globally consider food or drinks to be somewhat or very appealing if they are targeted at socialising with friends or entertaining guests. In addition, 36% feel similarly towards food or drinks aimed at a specific activity, hobby, or sport.

The convenience of snack foods is crucial in these situations, as large groups of friends are able to dip in and out of bowls of crisps while watching a sporting event on television.

With the days of eating three main meals in a 12 hour window a thing of the past, snacking is only set to become increasingly popular, as time poor consumers find new ways to consume convenient foods, without compromising on taste or having to pay a premium.