Snacks Grow into Big Business around the World: Nielsen Survey

By Linda Winick

Snacks have become big business around the world. More consumers nosh between meals and often eat a snack instead of having breakfast or lunch and sometimes dinner.

Chocolate leads the pack of munchies globally. But non-sugary snacks like fresh fruit and yogurt are more popular than chips and ice cream.
Those were the key points uncovered by researcher Nielsen in a major study of the $374 billion global industry that is growing about 2% annually. Its snacking survey polled more than 30,000 consumers online in 60 countries from mid-February to mid-March of this year.

Most of worldwide snack sales are in Europe ($167 billion) and North America ($124 billion). There is a wide gap compared with other regions: Asia-Pacific ($46 billion), Latin America ($30 billion) and the Middle East/Africa ($7 billion).
Each region has its favorite snacks. For example:
  • Sugary sweets like chocolate, hard candy and gum make up most of the snack sales in Europe ($46.5 billion)
  • Salty snacks make up more than 20% of snack sales in North America ($27.7)
  • Refrigerated snacks comprise almost one-third of snacks in Asia-Pacific ($13.7 billion)
  • Cookies and snack cakes amount to more than 25% of total snack sales in Latin America ($8.6 billion).

Sales of savory snacks, including crackers, rice cakes and pita chips, increased 21% in the last year in Latin America. Meat snacks, like jerky and dried meat, grew 25% in the Middle East/Africa and 15% in North America. Sales of refrigerated snacks, including yogurt, cheese snacks and pudding, increased 6.4% in Asia-Pacific, while dips and spreads like salsa and hummus grew 6.8% in Europe.

“Non-sugary snacks closely aligned with meal-replacement foods are showing strong growth, which signals a shift in a consumer mindset to one focused on health,” said a spokesperson for Nielsen. “While conventional cookies, cakes and confections categories still hold the majority share of snack sales, more innovation in the healthy snacking and portable food space is necessary to adjust to this changing dynamic.”

When Nielsen asked consumers around the world what one snack they would choose above all others, the overwhelming answer was fresh fruit (18%). Chocolate was second (15%). Both snack categories scored more than double or triple the responses for yogurt (6%), bread/sandwiches (6%), cheese (5%), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (5%), vegetables (5%) and ice cream/gelato (4%).
Choosing just one snack is hard, according to the research, which is why consumers don’t. They want variety.

In the span of 30 days, at least half of global respondents say they ate chocolate (64%), fresh fruit (62%), vegetables (52%), cookies/biscuits (51%), bread/sandwich (50%) and yogurt (50%). More than four in 10 respondents consumed cheese (46%), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (44%) and nuts/seeds (41%). One-third chewed gum (33%) and devoured ice cream/gelato (33%), while about one-fourth munched on popcorn (29%), crackers/crisp breads (28%) and cereal (27%). Softer offerings like dumplings (26%) and instant noodles (26%) were also popular with a quarter of respondents.

Not surprisingly, consumers around the world have different taste preferences for snack options. More than half of respondents (57%)  snack on vegetables in Asia-Pacific, cheese in Europe (58%), bread/sandwiches in the Middle East/Africa (47%), ice cream/gelato in Latin America (63%) and potato chips/tortilla chips in North America (63%).

“In the dichotomy of snacking, consumers want healthy, but yet indulgent options are still going strong,” said the Nielsen spokesperson. “A better understanding of consumer demand and the need states that drive demographic profile preferences will help manufacturers crack the code on the right portfolio balance between indulgence and healthy. It will also increase the odds of success in this ultra-competitive landscape.”

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                                                                         Mid-October 2014