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    Expert Column: Chew on This

    Understanding how, when and why Americans snack

    By James Russo, Nielsen

    If you're reading this while snacking, don't worry: You’re not alone. A whopping 91 percent of Americans snack at least once a day. Nielsen just completed a two-week online study of more than 1,100 Americans over the age of 18 and found some interesting facts about our snacking patterns.

    How Often and How Much Do We Snack?

    We are a nation of snackers and don't plan to quit. Despite increased health-and-wellness concerns, 60 percent of American respondents said they eat just as many snacks as they did last year. Most of us (62 percent) snack once or twice per day, while 7 percent of us will admit to snacking five times per day or more.

    Binge Sancking and Health Concerns

    Although the survey left the term "binge" to be self-defined, 78 percent of respondents reported binge snacking. Eight percent of respondents said they always binge snack. This equates to more than 19 million people in the United States.

    How Do Men and Women Differ When it Comes to Snacking?

    More women reported occasional binge snacking behavior (34 percent) as compared with men (29 percent). Nearly a quarter of women snack three to four times a day compared with men (19 percent). Women also reported snacking out of stress relief (22 percent) or boredom (23 percent), or as an indulgence (48 percent), while men said they chose to snack to improve their mood (14 percent), for enjoyment (40 percent) and to satisfy hunger between meals (49 percent). Therefore, in comparison with men, women are more apt to reach for a snack when they're stressed or bored or simply want a treat.

    For men, the biggest difference was having a snack as a breakfast alternative. Snacking seems to be replacing meals for many Americans as a meal alternative to breakfast (6 percent), lunch (12 percent) and dinner (6 percent).

    Women prefer sweets like chocolate, candy or cookies (40 percent), whereas men prefer salty treats like pretzels and chips (32 percent). Both genders cited satisfying cravings as their No. 1 reason to snack (52 percent).

    We love snacking while watching TV -- both sexes picked TV as their No. 1 activity while snacking (51 percent). Men are more likely to snack while working (31 percent), whereas women are more likely to snack while using their smartphones, laptops or tablets (54 percent).

    What Influences our Snacking Behavior?

    Perhaps most surprising is what least influences snacking behavior … and that would be advertising. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being least influential and 5 being most influential, respondents gave advertising a meager 2.8. This could illustrate the need for greater advertising effectiveness. It also could mean that Americans are being influenced by advertisements to try snack products in ways they don't consciously acknowledge.

    Easy availability, such as vending machines and coffee shops, influenced snacking behavior with only a 2.9 score. In-store displays and recommendations from friends and family each earned a score of 3.1. Coupons and in-store promotions, meanwhile, yielded a respectable 3.4 score.

    Most influential, with a score of 4.1, is previous purchases. If a consumer tried a snack and liked it, he or she will more likely return to that snack. This has obvious positive implications for sampling programs. Women in particular apparently make their snacking decisions based on successful previous purchases: 44 percent of female respondents cited previously purchasing a snack item as the main reason to reach again for that snack. Therefore, in an increasingly fragmented market with decreasing loyalty, winning over female snackers can go a long way toward achieving sustained growth.

    Where Are we Getting our Snacks?

    Fifty percent of both genders reported grocery stores to be their top choice for snack purchases. However, for their second and third choices, men skew to convenience stores for their snack items, followed by club stores, while women skew to mass merchandisers.

    Putting it all Together

    Because a whopping 91 percent of us admit to snacking at least once per day, understanding the American snacking consumer has huge implications for how we move forward with advertising, marketing, in-store displays, sampling programs, couponing and other decisions. There's strong consumer demand, so I hope this snacking data has been, well, food for thought.

    By James Russo, Nielsen
    • About James Russo James Russo is SVP, global consumer insights at Nielsen.

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