Show me what snack you want to grab when you're stressed, excited, procrastinating, or just plain bored and I'll get you right away. Our snacking choices and habits say a lot about us, from our heritage, our desires, our personality and more.
But what EXACTLY is a snack? I could easily call snacking on a handful of Bamba puffs snacking, as I would dive into a deep dish of pasta. The dictionary defines a snack as a light meal. Fair enough, but just in case for the past year my days have been defined by snacks. In fact, a consumer poll last year showed that more of us are snacking than eating full meals these days. It's dramatic, but let's explore this shift further.
The simple word “nibble” evokes warm feelings of nostalgia from 90s icons (hello, Dunkaroos) to cherished moments with my friends when times were simpler. This is probably why many of us have found solace in snacks through the pandemic. From day one, food ads drilled the link between snacks and companionship into our heads, so it's only natural that just when we felt most disconnected from the world, snacks filled the void. The same consumer poll I mentioned earlier found that 52 percent of us around the world were treating snacking as a “lifesaver” during the pandemic, with convenience as the number one driver. All I can say is, I FEEL YOU.
But let's be clear, this revolutionary era of snacks isn't all doom and gloom. There is a rebellion in various trends that we can all get behind. Indulge in the exciting changes I'm seeing in the snacking world along with my picks for brands that are making waves.
The Spruce / Cara Cormack
We step out of our comfort zones, both in the aisles of the store and in the kitchen. There is diversity on the shelves, introducing us to all kinds of cultures and ingredients. Somehow, some snacks inspire the sense of travel we've been craving from the couch cushion.
America is a melting pot of identities and ethnicities. Our awareness of local flavors continues to evolve with the reach of social media, streaming networks and restaurants. As the pandemic forced the restaurant to close, producers stepped in to provide the menu flavors we missed along with new experiences we craved. The focus on localization further encouraged bold flavors of spice, umami and sour along with exotic ingredients. Asia Pacific represents the largest and fastest growing market for snack products, followed by North America due to the penetration of Western eating habits in developing countries. Plus, Mexican flavors from tajin, elotes, chimichurri, mole and more find their way into popcorn, nuts and chips.
We may have already walked this adventurous path by exploring outside of our snack box, but the pandemic pushed us forward as snacks offered a form of escape.
Mexican-American family company with a wide variety of grain-free snacks
An international snack subscription box
An Israeli staple is now available at Trader Joe's
Gluten-free cheese bread and Latin-inspired empanadas
- Trader Joe's Elote Corn Chip Dippers
A subtle spice at the end of each bite is what does it for us
There's more to snacking these days than filling up energy levels. Enter: adaptogens and functional snacks or nibbles with nutritional benefits. We want snacks that do it all — I'm talking high, low, and everywhere in between.
Where snacking was once considered a negative habit, it now gives us life—literally. Now you can buy protein balls that offer the beautifying properties of collagen and biotin. There is even a snack for every hour of the day as some may offer Maka to boost energy and mood for the start of the day, while other offers Tulsi Basilios to reduce stress, anxiety and inflammation. Some of the more common adaptogens and their targets include: Schisandra (memory, focus, mental performance), Ashwagandha (stress and anxiety), Reishi mushrooms (sleep patterns, stress), Turmeric (stress hormones, inflammation) and Nettle leaf (stress, tension). Then there's CBD, which offers non-psychoactive hemp extract benefits for post-workout recovery and a good night's rest.
Mindless snacking shifts to mindful snacking as we look for more ways to slip into a state of relaxation and calm.
CBD peanut butter,” nuff said
World-class double dipping, pandan-flavored cereal contains cold-inducing adaptogens turmeric and ashwagandha
Crispy paleo clusters with reishi adaptogens
Buy individual products or indulge in a curated box, including a variety of adaptogenic snacks
Alcohol-Infused Popcorn That Won't Get You High, But Will Definitely Get You In The Mood To Celebrate
The Spruce / Cara Cormack
When we say “healthy,” we usually mean both physical and mental well-being, but beyond that, what does it really mean? We're all trying to become healthier in our lifestyles and habits, whether it's in terms of longer life expectancy or waistline care. A global pandemic will certainly push health to the top of our minds as we all focus on immunity in different ways.
Specialty shopping and curated one-stop shops help us discover the “better-for-you” products we crave, but with a level of personalization that makes those items affordable. We have the ability to explore more snacks thanks to the Internet, which is finally lowering the barrier to entry for small companies who no longer have to “pay to play” for placement on retail shelves.
Plus, we want snacks packed with vitamins, minerals and probiotics that keep us full with a healthy gut. High protein is still on our minds, but now we're interested in alternative sources: whole grains, plant-based, and legumes. Plus, less sugar (artificial and natural) is a priority for most lifestyles, from keto to vegan to paleo. As we maintain our busy lifestyles, on-the-go options that target nutrient deficiencies are a huge hotspot in the market. The main buzzwords that go along with these items include gluten free, clean label, allergen free, organic, low calorie (I know, it's weird to want a filling snack with few calories), superfood, and antioxidant.
Keto, vegan, plant-based low sugar bars
The nutrient-dense, paleo, and keto benefits of bone broth in an easy-to-microwave “mug”
Vegetarian, gluten free, trans fat free
Vegan and grain-free snacks — apple cider vinegar is my favorite
A snack pack of boiled eggs with various spices, including Everything Bagel and Ranch
The Spruce / Lauryn Bodden
While Millennials lead sustainability awareness, age groups show that both the environment and wellness play an important role in their purchasing decisions. Resources like the Upcycled Food Association encourage us to buy items that close the loop on waste, packaging, labels, and nutrition with a special emphasis on plant-based products. That's no surprise, since Millennials are the largest group of snackers in the United States today, with one in four considered “Super Snackers,” meaning they snack four or more times a day—I like to think I'm in that category .
Many Big Food companies push sustainability messages, promising to reduce negative externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution, only to delay another decade down the line. One argument is that it takes time, money and resources to make these changes. But, these companies DO have the money and the resources. Plastics in particular are one of the biggest problems facing the world. Made from extracted and refined crude oil, it never breaks down, but simply breaks down into microplastics that find their way into our food and water sources. It's hard to put an exact price on the damage these companies are causing (air pollution, medical problems, disease, climate change, etc.) in order to impose a tax, but organizations like #BreakFreeFromPlastic are calling for massive reductions in single-use plastics.
In the United States, we throw away two-fifths of all the food we produce, which equates to about 40 percent going straight to the landfill. This happens at every point in the chain from farms, factories, retailers and homes. Alternatives address this problem by practicing regenerative agriculture, recycled vegetables and by-products, plant-based and even whole animal/vegetables. It's funny to think that the birth of TV dinners came from this very idea, packing leftover Thanksgiving turkey into frozen meals. Fast forward 70 years, and the food revolution is even more exciting, as well as environmentally driven.
Yes, sausage can be a snack—it's easy to eat less meat since sausages are 35% vegetable with humanely raised meat and carbon-neutral processing
Sustainably sourced salmon skin chips
Made from grains left over from brewing beer
- alter eco truffles and bombes with nut butter
Minimally processed ingredients, small scale farmers, regenerative agroforestry and compostable wraps
Made from recycled bananas using regenerative agriculture
I look forward
We dived deep into our feelings and desires this past year. Consumers these days are more fickle in their decisions and less loyal. Although most of us still work remotely (and likely will in our post-pandemic lives), we have less time and patience to sift through all the options out there. And even though we're more conscientious about our decisions, we'll always be drawn to Instagrammable branding and snacks with a nostalgic charm. The good news is that companies are hearing it all. Before I get even more into my latest obsessions (yuca everything) or the future of the snack industry, I'll leave you with this: Remember those Dunkaroos? Did you know that Yan Yan, a Japanese treat, is the true OG of cookies n' dip? Get out there, grab some snacks and get inspired.