Sweet, savory snacks win in 2023, age influences purchase channel, Circana finds

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	Plateresca
Image Credit: Getty Images - Plateresca

Related tags Snacks better for you Indulgence

Consumers are finding more ways to eat their favorite snacks, as younger shoppers increasingly turn to quick-service restaurants for a convenient option for in-between meal occasions, Circana shared in its annual snack report.

US snack dollar sales outpaced total food and beverage with $214bn in sales, according to Circana MULO data​ for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 31, 2023. Dollar sales for snacks increased 6.2% and declined 2.1% in units, compared to total food and beverage, which grew 4.5% in dollars and declined 1.4% in units in 2023. 

Non-chocolate candy, tortilla/tostada chips, and nutritional/ intrinsic health value bars dollar sales increased the highest, growing 12.3%, 11.2%, and 10.4%, respectively. Tortilla/tostada chips, yogurt, and assorted salted snacks (no nuts) were the only categories that saw unit increases, growing 0.9%, 0.8%, and 0.4%, respectively. 

Snack nuts was the only category that decreased both in dollars and units, decreasing 1.3% in dollars and 3.1% in units.

Also, shoppers had 809 between-meal occasions in 2023 on average, nine more than in 2020, and 46% of consumers snack three or more times, down 3 percentage points (ppts) from a year ago, according to Circana MULO data. Half of consumers said they often eat snacks instead of a meal when they are on the go, 6.3ppts higher compared to 2019. 

Younger consumers turn to quick-service restaurants for snacks

Consumers are switching where they buy snacks, and younger shoppers are turning to quick-service restaurants for their snacking needs. 

"There is a lot of different shifting and trading up and trading down that is happening, and it is very complex,” Sally Lyons Wyatt, global EVP and chief advisor of consumer goods and foodservice insight for Circana, shared during a recent webinar on the report. "You have some consumers that are going from out of home to in home but also vice versa. ... We also see consumers going from grocery to value channels. Value can mean different things. Convenience is part of that.” 

A majority (74.4%) of snacks still come from retail channels, but quick-service restaurants gained 0.5ppts of the market in 2023 to become 16% of the total snack market. Convenience and dollar stores each grew market share by 0.4ppts, while grocery declined the most at 0.6ppts. Drug, mass, and pureplay e-commerce dropped 0.1 ppts each.

Generational divide: Where shoppers snack depends on age

In 2023, Gen Z and Millennials shifted their spending from retail to quick-service restaurants by 0.8ppts and 0.7ppts of total retail market share, respectively. Also, Gen X shifted from grocery to convenience stores and from grocery to dollar stores, growing market share by 0.7ppts and 0.6ppts, respectively.

“Gen Zs are really the only generation where we see that away-from-home snacking, at least spend on it, increased faster with service than we see at retail. This ... is partly from the life stage they are going into as they become adults. They realize, ‘Hey, I do not really know what to do in the kitchen that much,’ and so they turned to foodservice operators to help them out.”      

Boomers favored mass, dollar, and some convenience channels, and seniors are "entrenched in grocery," with grocery gaining 0.3ppts of market share for that demographic, Circana reported. 

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