LAS VEGAS — The snack category is growing quickly as it meets evolving consumer demands and habits. According to Circana, salty snack sales grew 15.6% in 2022 to reach $28 billion, and are projected to reach $38 billion by 2028, Mintel found.

At Pack Expo 2023, held Sept. 11-13 in Las Vegas, David Walsh, vice president, membership and communication, SNAC International, highlighted the most significant trends driving the snack world’s momentum.

Snacking and saving more

Nearly half (49%) of consumers are snacking three-plus times a day, Walsh said, up 8% in the last two years. Younger generations like millennials and Gen Z are driving this trend.

“They’re most likely to replace a meal with a snack, as 92% replace at least one meal a week with a snack,” Walsh said. “And as their buying powers increase…it’s leading to more dollars going into the snack category.”

He added that the late-night daypart is ripe for opportunity.

“Cravings for calorie-dense foods peak at night, as well as overall appetite…it creates the perfect storm,” he said. “Large companies and investors know this, and they see it as a matter of ‘when, not if’ we’ll see snacks specifically catered to the nighttime snacker.”

The pandemic boosted much of the snack category as consumers turned to snacks as a source of familiarity and comfort. But subsequent inflationary pressures have shifted the way they’re purchasing snacks. Twenty-five percent of consumers are now looking to buy what’s on sale, up 3% from two years ago, while 20% of consumers are buying less assortment of snacks for their household to save money, up 7% over the last two years.


Finding new flavors

When it comes to flavor, spicy is posting strong unit growth across numerous snack categories. Walsh noted that consumers are gravitating toward spicy flavors with added nuance.

“It’s not just heat, but different types of peppers like ghost pepper, habanero, hints of lime, chili, chipotle, adobo, hot paired with cheese, just to name a few examples,” he said.

On the sweet side, berry, cinnamon and chocolate nut flavors are trending, while lime and tangy tamarind varieties are growing amongst tangy snacks.

Global flavors are increasing across snacks as well, including Latin American, Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. Walsh emphasized that this growing global influence is here to stay.

“As consumers are trying to make their dollar stretch a little bit further, these international flavors are creating an opportunity for snack makers to deliver more ‘foodie’ and elevated experiences while consumers are continuing to stay home,” he explained.

Balancing indulgence and better-for-you

While there has been an explosion of better-for-you snacks, indulgence remains consumers’ primary reason for snacking. Fifty-four percent of consumers want a snack as a treat, according to Mintel, while only 22% are motivated by health.

Walsh observed that this gap may be due in part to inflation, and that consumers will opt for more better-for-you snacks once their purchasing power increases.

“Indulgence will never go anywhere; sometimes consumers just want their favorite snack,” he said. “But better-for-you is definitely still alive and well.”

Trending better-for-you snack attributes include prebiotics, probiotics, antioxidants and a serving of fruit or vegetables. Allergen-free and allergen-friendly snacks also posted strong dollar (25%) and unit (8.7%) growth as did plant-based protein. Protein as a whole continues to perform exceptionally well, with snacks offering 15-plus grams of protein growing 40%.

“There’s really a group of consumers that will pay more for their healthier snacks, so this just shows they’re putting their money where their mouth is,” he said.

Consumers, especially younger ones, are also seeking brands that represent their personal values, including social and environmental awareness, Walsh said. But he noted that snack makers should home in on a specific message.

“According to Innova, 55% of consumers say there are too many environmental labels, so they don’t know what they’re looking for,” he explained. “Food producers should really pick a cause that’s important to them and resonates with their company so that consumers go that route.”

For example, unit sales are up for claims like fair trade, animal well-being and made with upcycled ingredients.