Potato chips, trail mix, cookies; the list of snack foods available these days is endless. Over the last five years, the snack food industry has grown at around 3.8 percent every year, and this year it will pull in about $34.6 billion. Are we snacking too much?
Well, we’re definitely snacking more. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that over the last several decades, the percentage of Americans who snack at least three times a day has nearly tripled, going from 20 percent in the 1990s to 56 percent in 2010. Back in the 1970s, there were even fewer people snacking, when the same number was around 10 percent.
But what’s most disconcerting is that many Americans are replacing actual meals with snacks. Snacking in an of itself isn’t necessarily bad, but while it’s one thing to eat small portions of healthy foods several times a day, it’s quite another to be downing packaged snack foods to keep yourself going.
The rise is snacking of course means a rise in companies offering things to snack on. As the WSJ reports, over at General Mills, the snack division has seen a 6 percent rise in sales over the last year. The meals department however isn’t doing so well; the division that handles Hamburger Helper and other brands saw its sales fall by 4 percent.
And General Mills isn’t alone. According to CNBC, “Oscar Mayer launched “portable protein packs” including one with ham, cheese and almonds, ConAgra Foods offers small microwavable bowls of Chef Boyardee lasagna and ravioli, and Nestle sells “snack pizzas” and stuffed pretzels under the Lean Cuisine brand. Breakfast food companies such as Kellogg’s have developed breakfast bars to prop up flagging sales, submitting to the will of busy people who are taking their morning bite on the way to work.”
Clearly it’s the day and age of the packaged, processed mini-meal where we don’t take time to sit down to a enjoy our food with other people. But when we lose meals, we lose more than just the nutrients; there’s an emotional and cultural component that slips away as well. Sadly, that isn’t going to stop anytime soon as the food industry is also ensuring that they get snackers when they’re young.
In the U.S. the food and beverage industry spends $1.79 billion every year marketing to kids, with $1 billion of that going directly to kids ages 2 to 11. Of those marketing dollars, 72 percent is spent on carbonated beverages, cereals and fast food. In other words, nobody is putting millions into hawking carrot sticks.
The snack food industry is also cashing in on marketing products that seem healthier than others, but things like “healthy option” granola bars are often as bad as candy bars because they are packed with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colorings and the like. “They are highly-engineered sugar delivery systems,” Dr. Sean C. Lucan at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Market Watch. Add to that the fact that marketing claims like “natural” are essentially meaningless, and you have an entire industry that is doing anything but offering us healthy options for our snack foods.
Do we snack too much? The answer seems to be yes and, as long as we keep doing it, we can expect a food industry that keeps serving us more and more of what we don’t need.
Photo Credit: Andy Melton