Appetizers: Informal Mealtimes Spur Growth


Evolving snacking and mealtimes patterns are having a strong influence on the frozen foods industry, writes Jonathan Thomas.

To fully appreciate the opportunities and challenges facing manufacturers of frozen snacks and appetizers, it is worth considering how eating patterns have evolved across much of Europe over the last few decades. Fewer consumers – certainly in the region’s largest western economies, such as the UK, Germany and France – now stick rigidly to three main meals per day. Eating patterns have become more much fluid and flexible, with round-the-clock snacking and grazing an increasing feature of many lifestyles, particularly among the younger age groups.

Changing Eating Habits

In previous years, snacking was largely confined to specific parts of the day, such as the middle of mornings or afternoons. Increasingly, however, snacking has become an all-day affair, as consumers eat whenever they are hungry or inclined to do so. The prevalence of late-night snacking, for example, continues to increase, although this trend has drawn criticism from some health groups – this is mainly because eating just before going to bed has been linked with weight gain. As the number of occasions during which consumers snack has grown, the choice of products has widened accordingly. Foods associated with mealtimes (e.g. breakfast cereals, prepared meals, soup, yoghurt and rice pots) are now featuring as snacks to a greater degree.

The snacking habit is particularly ingrained amongst younger consumer groups, such as millennials. UK research carried out in 2017 by Pladis (owner of brands such as McVitie’s and Godiva) suggests that today’s younger age groups are snacking more than any previous generation, as traditional mealtimes have been eroded. According to the research, 25% of the UK’s young people snack four or more times per day, whist separate data from Kantar TNS indicates that 86% of millennials snack during the working day. This number falls to 60% of baby boomers. It has been suggested that one of the reasons snacking is so integral of the lives of younger people today is its versatility (i.e. any type of food can be encompassed), as well as the potential to ‘personalize’ eating patterns.

Convenience remains a major driver within the snacking market, since many products are targeted at on-the-go (OTG) eating occasions. In the UK, the market for ‘grab and go’ hot and cold foods is now worth over GBP20bn and rising by around 5% per year. One the main drivers within this segment is the growing popularity of street food, which has contributed to the rising penetration of products such as burgers and Mexican foods (e.g. filled wraps) within the snacking arena. In recent years, the street food trend has spread from Asia and the Americas to Europe, especially western economies such as the UK. Reasons for this include its relatively inexpensive nature, its wide range of aromas and flavors, its links with the community and its suitability for providing social media material (e.g. images on Instagram).

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