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Consumer Trends

Defining ‘snack’ isn’t easy

Photograph: Shutterstock

As the imperative of eating three set meals a day has waned, the public’s definition of “snack” has changed accordingly. That label is being applied today to a far broader array of menu options, with a far weaker correlation to such previous hallmarks as portion size, price or when the item is purchased and consumed. More than one of every five consumers (22%) say they’ve changed their definition to include more types of foods, and 10% say they’ve stretched their snack expectations to encompass beverages, according to Technomic.

Late at night, Denny’s sees that craving for variety as the new norm. “We continue to find new ways to innovate our menu, offering bigger, bolder flavors and an even wider variety of classic diner dishes that our guests can enjoy all day and all night long,” says CMO John Dillon.

What are they eating? 

Because snacks are increasingly replacing meals, consumers are likely to hunt for heartier options, according to Technomic. It cites such examples as chicken wings, crab bites and protein shakes, and notes that 52% of consumers say they find protein-rich snacks to be enticing.


top snack spots

Source: Technomic Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report

The emergence of snacking as an alternative to three-a-day meals is also encouraging snackers to plan their food breaks ahead of time, in part by buying a bite for later while they’re grabbing a restaurant breakfast or lunch. For that reason, the researcher foresees an increase in the popularity of prepackaged grab-and-go restaurant snacks, along the lines of the Balanced Bites snack packs offered by Zoes Kitchen or Bon To Go snack boxes marketed in Au Bon Pain bakery-cafes.

where are they buying

Source: Technomic Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report

Late at night, we definitely see it all and embrace it all,” says Dillon. “The number of orders we see that mix products of different types—a burger with an omelet, for example, or our pancakes ordered with nachos and a milkshake—continues to amaze us, and fits into the variety that is valued with our menu.”

Value is important to the after-dinner crowd, Dillon observes. “Historically, our $2-$4-$6-$8 menu has always been very popular during late-night, which speaks to the fact that guests are looking for a great combination of value and variety.” The menu offers selections within each pricing tier, enabling guests to build a meal to fit their wallets.

what will they pay


Source: Technomic Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report

After 9 p.m., the Primanti Bros. casual chain offers a menu of hearty selections starting at $4. The tag line: “Real food. Big portions. Bigger value.”  

Health is figuring more heavily into what consumers choose for their snacks. A fourth of consumers, and 29% of female diners, intend to eat healthier snacks in the future, according to Technomic. Healthfulness determines choice for 42% of snackers.

Technomic notes that vegetables are becoming a more common snacking option, vis-a-vis the Eureka casual chain’s Cauliflower Bites or the Dragon Broccoli tasting plate at Red Lobster.

important snacking qualities

Source: Technomic Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report

Whatever snackers are eating, they’d like to see more of those options. Twenty-two percent of consumers say they’d like to see more choices offered by full-service restaurants, and 24% had the same request for quick-service places.

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