It's official - Britain consumes more snacks than any other European nation. From healthy eating to emotional fulfilment, Datamonitor reports on current snacking habits, with suggestions for how manufacturers can capitalise on such trends.

A new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor reveals that Brits are not only Europe's biggest snackers, but their snacking habits also bear most resemblance to their US counterparts.  By 2008, snacking will account for 44% of all eating occasions, and Brits will spend a total of £10.3bn (US$18.1bn), representing an increase of over 20% on 2003.

"It is now well recognised that consumers are snacking more. However, British snackers are becoming increasingly difficult to please as their demand for healthy and 'guilt free indulgence' snacks increases," comments Daniel Bone, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor, and author of the report. "The key to success lies in recognising and capitalising on these core trends which are having the most profound affect on consumer preferences and buying behaviour."

Brits snack the American way

Brits munch through £143 worth of snacks per person per year and this is set to increase to almost £158 by 2008. This compares to £141.5 in the US, while the average spend per person in Europe stands at £109. US consumers, however, out-eat their UK counterparts - the average number of daily snacking occasions per person in the US stood at 2.2 in 2003, compared to 1.9 in the UK. "The reason behind this surprising figure is that UK consumers have a sweeter tooth. Per head consumption of chocolate confectionery in the UK is significantly higher than in the US, but if fastfood-type snacks were taken into account, US per head expenditure would then be significantly higher," says Bone.

Snacking markets in the UK continue to grow rapidly, driven by the increasing acceptability and need to snack throughout the day. The size of the snack market in the UK is expected to near £10.3bn by 2008, rising from £8.5bn in 2003, representing an increase of over 20%.

"UK manufactures and retailers have been relatively effective in creating reasons for consumers to snack more. Even simple innovations such as placing chocolate or cereals into bagged snack format like Kellogg's have done with Special K means that volumes of impulse snack consumption continue to increase," adds Bone.

The occasion dictates the snack

Datamonitor's research reveals that the occasion rather than the consumer's demographic profile has a greater influence on the choice of snacks. Marketers, therefore, need to place greater emphasis on positioning products against defined occasions. "With consumers exhibiting divergent behaviours depending on the snacking occasion, it becomes all the more important to position products by occasion, and, where possible, by time of day. However, despite claims in both the European and US trade press about marketers increasingly seeking to position products against more specific consumption occasions, many consumers spoken to as part of the Datamonitor research struggled to identify brands they perceived as adopting such an approach," comments Bone.

Performance-boosting and health-focused products should target morning and afternoon occasions as the need for indulgence increases through the day. As the evening draws in, consumers seek emotional comfort from more indulgent snacks and drinks. "Evening is the peak time for indulgence," says Bone. "It is when the household chores are typically finished, the kids are in bed and the parents typically relax. Communicating occasion specificity in promotions is therefore vital." For example, in 2002 popcorn manufacturer Orville Redenbacher successfully reached its consumers at a very specific time, by establishing 9:00 pm every night as "Orville Time" in Canada.

Snacking becomes an emotional affair

The emotional fulfilment role that snacks play, particularly with women, should not be underestimated. Emotional factors and benefits are crucial in differentiating product propositions, and the use of 'Experiential Marketing', whereby a company gets its customers to sense, feel, think, act and relate to its brands, will significantly assist marketers in getting consumers to become emotionally connected with snack brands.

European and US consumers are looking for new, cosmopolitan taste experiences. Widespread interest in ethnic cuisines and new flavour experiences are also driving innovation in a number of snacking categories, especially bagged snacks.

Simultaneously, consumers are now willing to 'trade-up' from standard to premium products, which better fulfil their needs. Consequently, there has been an 'in-filling' of the market between the traditional black and white segmentation of standard and premium. "The emergence of mid-market segments makes it possible for consumers to feel that they are trading-up, while the only slightly higher price point allows them to do so more regularly. This has led to the emergence of the super-premium and mid-market," adds Bone.

But comfort still matters

Whilst the trend is towards more experiential flavours with greater sensory appeal, an equally important counter-trend is the return to traditional flavours. To ensure that marketers capitalise on these somewhat paradoxical preferences they must develop broad product portfolios catering for fragmented tastes and develop milder versions of more experiential flavours that encourage initial experimentation. Larger industry players in particular have the resources to ensure they are in the best position to achieve this.

To find out more about this report from Datamonitor, click here.