Eating in between mealtimes is fundamentally ingrained in Europeans' eating habits, claims a new report that encourages manufacturers to concentrate on healthy snacks and meal-snack 'hybrids' to meet the needs of this rising trend.
The report from market analyst Datamonitor claims that on average Europeans eat 4.5 times a day and snacks account for 40 per cent of these occasions. Eating out-of-the-home is set to rise steadily over the next five years as regular meals are further displaced. By 2007, consumer spending on retail food and drink out of home will reach €80.6 billion across Europe, an increase of €11.3 billion over 2002 levels.
"Manufacturers and retailers must meet consumers' demands for healthier snacking and also develop new meal-snack hybrids that match the way we eat today," said Dominik Nosalik, a consumer analyst at Datamonitor.
Snacking accounts for 40 per cent of all eating occasions.
In Europe Europeans' eating habits have evolved to allow for several eating occasions a day and eating between regular mealtimes is on the rise at the expense of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
On average Europeans eat a little over 4.5 times a day, and although 'proper' meals are eaten more frequently than snacks, the margin between meals and snack frequency consumption is declining. Currently snack consumption accounts for 40 per cent of all eating occasions and by 2007 this will increase to 41 per cent - a slight but continual shift away from regular mealtime eating.
Spending on food consumption when snacking will grow at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of 2.8 per cent between 2002 and 2007 compared to a CAGR of 2.1 per cent for food consumption on meals.
Brits most likely to eat out-of-home
Out-of-home consumption accounts for a significant and growing proportion of consumers' daily eating occasions, writes the report. In 2002, 24.4 per cent of eating occasions among Europeans were eaten out-of-home. By 2007 this will account for 27 per cent of all consumption occasions.
"The threat of out-of-home consumption to the retail sector is increasing at a rapid rate and further effort must be made to reach the consumer in out-of-home locations with products that meet the demands of eating in a variety of non-traditional eating environments," commented Nosalik.
In the UK, eating out of the home accounts for almost 32 per cent of all food occasions, set to increase to 35.5 per cent by 2007. This compares to 20 per cent in Germany and 25 per cent in the Netherlands.
Boundary blurs between meals and snacks
Datamonitor's survey reveals that traditional views of what comprises a meal are outdated. Today, consumers define meals by function rather than by occasion.
For consumers, the two most important characteristics of a meal are, quite simply, that it is a significant contributor to daily nutrition and that it is filling. Meals are considered in a functional sense first and foremost. Less significant features included predictability, regularity and, least of all, formality of eating.
According to the report, many consumers consider some of their 'snacking' to be 'other' meals, with many of them regularly combining different snack foods between set mealtimes, treating this as a meal rather than as snacking. Inevitably, convenience is the driving force behind the eating of other meals between regular mealtimes.
Eating more meals is also a way of coping with insubstantial portions at regular mealtimes. "That many people eat a number of smaller meals throughout the day is also indicative of the time pressures against traditionally prepared and eaten meals," added Nosalik. "Consumption is increasingly being made to fit around the needs and lifestyles of people, rather than people fitting their lives around structured mealtimes," he continued.
Breakdown of the nuclear family held responsible
The breakdown of the nuclear family is the most important social factor responsible for the dissolution of set mealtimes and the promotion of more snacking, writes the report.
In 1995, 40.1 per cent of Europeans lived as part of a nuclear family unit, but this will decrease to 34.1 per cent, or 132.7 million consumers, by 2005.
As a result, consumers have more 'individualised' lives with a growing fragmentation of their support network. This is also driving a skills shortage in basic areas such as cleaning and cooking as families become smaller and knowledge is not passed on, writes the report.
The pressure and desire to achieve more and do more with spare time is also rising. In such a situation something has to give and for many consumers that means less structured meals and more snacking.
Meal-snack hybrids the new solution
Although the majority of consumers still treat their between mealtime consumption as merely snacking, manufacturers need to recognise that for an increasing number of consumers 'snacking' is not necessarily impulse driven grazing, and could represent a more significant consumption occasion.
According to Datamonitor, snacking is so strongly ingrained in consumers' eating habits that there is an opportunity to position snacking as a regular and positive part of consumers' daily nutritional intake, shifting away from traditional views of snacking as unhealthy and inadequate consumption behaviour.
This could be done by credibly repositioning typical snack foods - such as nuts - as contributors to daily nutrition or by repositioning other foods as snack foods, thereby broadening the set of foods that consumers draw on to snack.
Whereas promoting positive snacking to children needs to be finely balanced and done with the right type of snack foods, the target for adults should focus on enabling them to make better judgements about snacking options, leaving responsibility for healthy choices with the adult, writes the report.
"Too strong a focus on what traditionally constitutes a meal means that opportunities to target other food types for the meal occasion may be missed. So long as food provides significant nutrition, energy and is filling any food can be potentially seen as meals or, indeed, meal components rather than snacks," said Nosalik.
"Developing meal-snack hybrids is likely to be an area of growing activity among food manufacturers as they move in line with consumers who are eating more frequent smaller meals and those looking for quick and easy, yet substantial solutions for non-main meals," concluded Nosalik.