Americans turn to salty snacks for comfort and familiarity during times of inflation

February 6, 2023

While the salty snack market continues to grow, it is feeling some effects from tightened budgets. Mintel research shows those who report their financial situations as struggling/in trouble are most likely (34%) to have decreased year-over-year salty snack consumption. Among those who haven’t increased consumption, 37% would be motivated to purchase more salty snacks if there were more budget-friendly options. In line with increasing inflation, 43% of consumers today consider the price of salty snacks to be the most important attribute, compared to 37% in 2022. When it comes to other salty snack attributes, flavor (40%) and brand familiarity (40%) remain important to consumers.

Despite budgets being squeezed, Mintel research shows the salty snack market continues to grow as consumers increasingly reach for a range of options. Over a quarter of consumers (27%) report increased consumption of salty snacks compared to last year, led by Millennials (47%), parents (46%), and those who are employed and work from home at least some of the time (42%). Consumers say they have increased consumption in the last year across all salty snack segments, with top growth seen across the popular cheese-flavored snacks (+6%), microwavable popcorn (+7%), and corn snacks (+8%) sectors, as well as the less mainstream snacks segment, including chips/puffs made from vegetables, beans, or ancient grains (+7%), suggesting that consumers are reaching for a mix of familiar and exciting. 

Kelsey Olsen, Consumer Insights Analyst Food & Drink at Mintel said:

“Budget constraints are challenging consumers across the board, and even though salty snacks are relatively affordable, they are not necessities. As consumers increase their snacking overall, brands will be challenged to find a mix of the familiarity and newness that consumers are seeking. Brands can meet these consumers with value options that offer them familiarity, like a box of Cheez-Its or a bag of Fritos, when the trial of new snacks may feel risky. 

“Retailers also have a prime opportunity to provide value in their private-label salty snack offerings while showcasing that private brands can deliver on flavor and innovation. Winning brands will need a crave-worthy flavor experience at the forefront, with a foundation of comfort.” 

Salty snacks are meeting emotional needs

Mintel research reveals that salty snacks are meeting more specific emotional needs for consumers, as over two-thirds choose snacks for relaxing and to satisfy a craving (67% respectively), outpacing hunger as a motivator (58%). For younger generations, the emotional appeal is even more defined – and it’s on the rise. Two in five Millennials (39%) choose snacks to relieve boredom – a nearly 10 percentage point increase (30%) since 2018. What’s more, a third of Millennials (34%) choose snacks to relieve stress today, compared to 24% of Millennials five years ago.

“As consumers continue to navigate stressful and evolving times, salty snacks can be there to help them slow down and even relieve stress. Salty snacks are winning in their ability to satisfy cravings and meet emotional needs, expanding their role beyond a quick hunger-satisfying solution. Salty snacks must be versatile in their ability to meet different occasions, but at base, they must simply bring consumers joy. Brands must continue to help consumers make positive associations with snacks to further encourage permissibility on different occasions as well as facilitate an experience that meets more emotional needs like a snack positioned for self-care,” concluded Olsen.

Additional research on salty snacks and the snack industry and interviews with the analyst are available upon request from the Mintel Press Office. For those interested in purchasing the full report, please visit the Mintel Store.

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