No vending machines, no stopping at the gas station or corner store on the way into work, no darting out for a mid-morning coffee at the lobby café—there’s no doubt that snacking habits in America have changed over the past six months as many people have been forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But far from being brought to a screeching halt, snacking—that beloved American pastime—is alive and well, turning home kitchens into proverbial water coolers and endless sources of grazing at all hours of the day. In fact, a recent survey conducted through a partnership between California Walnuts and Kelton Global reports that 48% of Americans admit to snacking more now than before the pandemic.
One of the reasons for this likely has to do with the search for comfort in these uncertain times—represented by a return to the nostalgic and indulgent treats of the past—and perhaps a certain amount of “devil may care” attitude about our waistlines brought about by pandemic-related stress.
At the same time, many consumers are also paying more attention than ever to the importance of health and wellness and the idea of “food as medicine.” The connection between health and immunity and what we put in our mouths is top of mind, and Americans are starting to pay more attention to what they eat. According to a June 2020 survey by New Hope Network Next Data and Insights, 35% of consumers were buying "better-for-me" products in mid-June, versus only 27% in mid-April.
What and how to snack
In the natural channel, the snack categories that are doing well in terms of year-over-year growth reflect these values to some extent, although they also reflect our changing snacking habits. For example, single-format grab-and-go items such as bars no longer seem as necessary when people are stuck at home all day.
According to SPINS data on category sales over the past six months in the “natural enhanced channel,”—a grouping of more than 1,850 full-format stores with over $2 million in annual sales and 40% or more of coded sales from natural/organic/specialty products—cookies and snack bars started the year with a 0.5% decline in growth over the previous year, and in June of 2020 that decline was at -2.3%. Jerky and meat snacks, other typical single-serving grab-and-go snacks, plummeted from -3.8% year-over-year growth in January 2020 to -17.7% in June.
On the other hand, products that tend to come in multiple-serving packaging like nuts, chips and crackers did comparatively well during the COVID-19 lockdown. Nuts, trail mix and dried fruit started the year at -1.6% but, by June had grown by 18.6%. Year-over-year growth of chips, pretzels and snacks increased from 3.7% to 10.3% during this six-month period, while crackers and crispbreads grew from 1.1% to 5.6%.
The better-for-you snacks featured in this gallery are made with everything from sprouted nuts to grass-fed beef, real-food ingredients, upcycled fruit and more. They are also ideal for opening, leaving on the kitchen counter, grazing on throughout the day, sharing with the kids/spouse or devouring little by little while staring out the window of a home office and wondering if one should get up and mow the lawn.