How COVID is Changing Snacking Habits

More than 8 in 10 Americans (85%) changed their food habits since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the 2020 Food and Health Survey, an annual survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council.

“Cooking more at home is, not surprisingly, the biggest change, but many [Americans] are also snacking more…and thinking about food in general,” said the survey.

About one-third of Americans are snacking more often than they did before the COVID-19 crisis, while under 10% are snacking less. Specifically, 41% of Americans aged under 35 report snacking more than normal, compared with 26% of those aged 50 and older.

And the rise in snacking habits isn’t expected to disappear anytime soon as another survey by California Walnuts and Kelton Global found 40% of Americans expect increased snacking behavior to continue after shelter-in-place mandates are lifted.

Motives Behind Snacking

“In-home, there is more grazing, more continuous eating, and snacking takes up a much bigger role,” said Dirk Van de Put, CEO of Mondelez International, as reported by The New York Times (June 16). Van de Put also noted that new emotions played a role in snack compulsions.

“Sharing a snack with your kids as everybody is sort of cooped up in the house brings back a feeling of normalcy, of togetherness, calming everybody down,” he said.

Parents appear to also be eating snacks to relieve stress, as 41% of adults with children aged under 18 are snacking more, compared with 29% of adults without children.

Types of Snacks Being Consumed

Snacks range from healthy items, like fruits and nuts, to unhealthy options such as chips and doughnuts.

California Walnuts and Kelton Global’s survey showed about a quarter of snackers are trying new snacks.

Mondelez also found many consumers are drawn toward products that they were never attracted to before. For example, more than 40% of the soaring sales of Fig Newtons and Nutter Butter cookies came from first-time buyers. Cookie sales overall increased 147% during the pandemic, according to Research and Markets.

National sales data from IRI indicate salty snacks as the top food item that contributed to retail sales growth since early March when consumers began changing their purchasing habits due to stay-at-home orders.

In-store sales of salty and savory snacks each grew more than 15% in the eight weeks leading up to June 12, according to IRI, a significant increase for brick-and-mortar. However, snack purchases through e-commerce sites are up 44% since March 1.

Comfort is the priority, with 75% of respondents noting that they are not trying to eat healthier snacks than they normally do, and only 20% remarking that they wish there were more nutritious snacking options available.

As a result, 31% of American snackers acknowledge their new snacking behaviors led to weight gain during the pandemic.

Snackification Goes Global

America isn’t the only country experiencing a snacking craze as 23,000 consumers surveyed in 18 countries said they snacked more in May, according to FMCG Gurus. In China and Southeast Asia, lockdowns resulted in the “snackification” of meals, according to Ai Palette, a food technology startup that analyzed local language chats online from January to April, reported CNBC (June 26).

“Snacking at night and other non-regular times of the day spiked as consumers struggled to stick to their usual daily routines while spending all their time at home,” said Somsubhra GanChoudhuri, co-founder and CEO of Ai Palette.

China’s consumer demand for cake spiked 66% year-onyear from January to April, while ice cream saw a 51% onyear jump in that same period. Cookies and cakes were the most popular items in Indonesia, while crackers were the top item in the Philippines and cookies and chips were popular in Thailand.