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Top Tips for business owners and snack manufacturers

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The snack industry has evolved and grown considerably over time as consumer eating habits change. Each generational demographic has its own snack habits and tendencies, with some proving more open to the concept of “snacking” than others.

When segmenting these generations for targeting, many snack producers are realizing that millennials are an extremely viable audience for targeting due to their tendency to snack throughout the day, their interest in on-the-go, cheaper foods and their love of new and interesting foods.

If you’re looking to market your snack product to millennials, there are a few key pieces of information, habits, and trends it’s important for you as a marketer to know. It’s essential be armed with the right knowledge before creating a marketing plan designed to attract the nation’s largest consumer demographic.

Chapter 1: The Snack Industry in 2018

In this day and age, the name of the snack game is consolidation. While there’s no shortage of innovation in new snacks, the way of the industry seems to be acquisition. Instead of growing a single, small snack operation into a giant company, these tiny brands are being picked up and used to diversify the portfolios of huge corporations.

     Learn more: Food Industry Consolidation: Giants Gobble Up Small Snack Brands

 The snack food industry generated $39 billion in revenue last year1 and is expected to grow over the next five years. Snack innovation has proved necessary and paid off over the past decade as consumer concerns over high-fat, high-sugar snacks grow. As these consumers become wary of traditional snacks, shifting food trends have led to an uptick in healthy snack startups and a race to see which big corporation can buy them out first.

"You see a lot of prepackaged health foods now. You can get packets of carrots or apples or even blueberries. Making health more convenient has opened that up to be more of a snacking option for consumers."

When it comes to America’s best snackers (healthy foods or otherwise), baby boomers top the list. However, millennials are close behind. Each generation has its own propensity for snacking, but with different habits and trends. Let’s explore some of the most important trends and habits marketers need to know when targeting their snacks toward a millennial audience.

Chapter 2: Millennial Snacking Habits

As mentioned, millennials love snacks as much as older generations, but their habits are so unique they’ve managed to change the very concept of snacking.

For example, nontraditional snacks like yogurt and prepackaged protein shakes are more likely to be found in the sack lunch of a millennial than a candy bar or bag of chips. These items are lower to the bottom of the food pyramid and indicative of a generation who cares about their health.

This millennial-centric health craze has led to a few key findings when it comes to this generation’s snack trends.

Ingredients matter

Over 60 percent of millennials feel that snacks with fewer ingredients on the nutrition label are better for their health and nearly 80 percent indicate there is a correlation between recognizing each ingredient and putting trust in the brand.3

Origins matter

Additionally, 68 percent of millennials feel it is important for them to know where the ingredients originate. Was their apple grown in a local orchard, or was it mass-produced on a factory farm?4

Setting an example matters

Older millennials often have children and are seeking to set a good example with healthy eating patterns. One study found that 55 percent of millennial moms were confident that their children would choose a healthy snack over a non-healthy option if given the chance.4

Mom’s opinions matter

While these millennial moms remain hopeful, the reality is that children just don’t generally love carrot sticks as much as they love cupcakes. This presents the challenge of finding healthy snacks that both mom and child will eat. A reported 82 percent of millennial parents had purchased a new type of healthy snack within the last month with the hope their child would happily eat it.4

Another huge factor making an impact in millennial snack habits is diversity. Fact: millennials aren’t all exactly the same. In fact, they’re the second most diverse generation, beat only by Generation Z after them. This diversity is actually working to change the snack industry.

     Learn more: Here’s How Millennial Diversity Impacts the Snack Food Industry

A millennial who grew up eating traditional Indian or Hispanic food is more likely to reach for something spicy over something sweet. And as minority millennials solidify their place in the consumer market, they cause an impact.5

Furthermore, it’s important that the industry takes a step back and stop viewing millennials as one homogenous group. The age range of the millennial in 2018 varies from 21-36.

Let’s examine a quick persona of each end of this spectrum.

Spot the difference? Us, too. When you’re marketing your snacks to millennials, be sure to really whittle down your buyer persona to ensure your marketing is targeting a specific persona and not just “millennials” as a whole.

Free eBook: “Millennial Marketing: Snacking – We’re Not All the Same.”

Master your snack marketing strategy, perfect your buyer persona, and understand snack industry trends – for free! 

Chapter 3: Millennial Snacking Trends

While these habits are fairly well ingrained in the minds of millennials, there are several up and coming trends marketers should also be aware of, monitor, and adapt to. Trends come and go, but when it comes to millennial snacking, these ones are making a big impact.

Taste over everything

While about 50% of millennials choose health as an important factor in their snack selection, 80% indicate taste as important. A millennial may reach for a healthier snack, but the expectation is that it tastes just as delicious as an indulgent one.

Now that you know what millennials like (and that you should never target just “millennials”), let’s explore a few snack brands that millennials are loving.

Digital over physical

According to Forbes, millennials report using digital devices for product education when they become interested in a brand. While listing your ingredients and methods of production on your packaging is a great way to communicate with your consumers, it’s no longer enough.


Millennials are the first generation whose lives are entwined with technology. They are not only searching for this information from your company, they are sharing their finds with friends and digesting snack product opinions from their peers (pun intended).

Learn more: 4 Millennial Snack Food Trends That Should Definitely Be Common Knowledge

Snacks over meals

Ironically, millennials love snacking so much they’ve nearly destroyed the very concept of the snack. While snacks are traditionally defined as small food items eaten between meals, the millennial sees no need for a definition. A snack can be a meal and a meal can be a snack.

While snack traditionalists balk at the prospect of replacing Sunday dinner with a protein bar, millennials don’t see the difference. Because they eat when they want to, convenience is a hugely important factor in food choice. A bag of chips in a desk drawer is more likely to win out over a salad bar that’s a bus ride away.

   Learn more: What Marketers Need to Know About the Demise of the ‘Meal’

Chapter 4: Snack Brands that Resonate With Millennials

Now that you know what millennials like (and that you should never target just “millennials”),

Let’s explore a few snack brands that millennials are loving.


Noosa is an “indulgent yoghurt” that markets itself under the umbrella of quality. Their flavor profiles range from caramel chocolate pecan to raspberry lemonade. However, they also tout their values on their website, proclaiming themselves to be GMO-free, environmentally friendly, and a ton of other millennial-centric buzzwords.

Noosa tops millennial lists because it’s convenient, easy to find, and tastes good.6 Remember what we said earlier about nontraditional snacks like yogurt finding their way into millennial sack lunches? Hello, Noosa!

Moon Pie

After Wendy’s, Moon Pie is millennials’ current favorite snarky, existential Twitter brand account. They’re an excellent example of a brand that knows to meet millennials where they are instead of coercing customers to come to them. Twitter says that 80% of its users are “affluent  millennials.”7 The platform is the perfect place to engage with its target audience in 240 characters or less.

It doesn’t take research to see that millennials on Twitter are generally misanthropic, depressed, and full of a vast love for memes and nonsensical comedy. Enter Moon Pie. Here are some of our favorite tweets from the marshmallow sandwich:

“Today is national pi day and I still have to work that’s pretty messed up.”

MoonPie (@MoonPie) March 14, 2018

“It’s as good a day as any to stick a MoonPie in the microwave light a couple candles and scream into a soft pillow.”

MoonPie (@MoonPie) November 30, 2017

Note to self: don’t mess with @MoonPie

Kaela Thompson (@KaelaDianne97) December 17, 2017

Rx Bars

You may have seen these little bars in your local grocery store lately. We’re willing to bet it was subtle, but that you noticed them because their packaging stands out.

Rx Bars have fully embraced the transparency millennials crave. Their packaging literally contains a list of each ingredient that particular bar contains. And no chemicals, either – these bars stick to “real” foods like dates, cacao, almonds, and blueberries.8

This streamlined packaging is a beacon in the grocery store for millennials who care about what’s in their food and have trouble trusting brands.

Halo Top

The LA Times puts it best: “We were about to ask if you’ve heard of Halo Top ice cream, but then we almost cracked up laughing.”9

Halo Top is the new Ben and Jerry’s – literally. In the past year they’ve managed to outsell even the Vermont ice cream giant. With its colorful packaging and fun flavors like mochi green tea and cinnamon roll, Halo Top is attracting millennials to its ice cream like moths to a flame.

Halo Top’s biggest draw isn’t in its packaging but in its key differentiator. Most flavors have less than half the calories as a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. The number of calories in each pint is proudly splashed on the front of its packaging, making it an attractive indulgence for millennials that still allows them to feel like they’re making a healthy choice.

These hip and trendy snacks are taking the cake (pun intended) and making an impression with Generation Y for a few reasons. These snacks fit the profile millennials want. They’re easy to eat on the go, their messaging resonates, and they taste good.

“When it comes to the brands they’re choosing to purchase… millennials are looking to brands that connect with them and fit into their lifestyles.” – Pamela Drucker Mann, chief marketing officer of Condé Nast

For more foods and smaller brands millennials love, check out our series on millennial eats in Cleveland, Ohio!

Chapter 5: Keeping Up With the Snack Industry

As millennials climb the corporate ladder and become the largest buying power to date, the snack industry is shaping to their whim. Millennials are driving business decisions now more than ever, a trend that is expected to continue into the coming years.

   Learn more: 5 Times Millennials Drove Business Decisions in 2017

Consumers can expect to see a continued uptick in healthy snacks and invested time and research into well-designed packaging convenient for the consumer on the go.

It’s crucial for marketers to keep up with changing times and millennial snack food trends using credible resources. Though trends like health and taste persevere in the market, new trends can pop up at any time. Keeping track of these ups and downs and adjusting products based on research and observation.

   Learn more: 10 Free Millennial Food Trend Resources

The shift that millennials are creating in the snack industry is affecting ingredients, packaging, and everything in between. The paradigm has changed from chips and candy snacks to convenient, healthy snacks like protein bars and yogurt cups. And now these types of snacks aren’t just small bites in between mealtimes – they’ve become meals themselves.

The diversity millennials bring in taste, expectations, and family makeup is different from any other generation and requires marketers to segment the generation into separate target markets rather than group them homogenously.

Most of all, it’s important to remember that this market has a constantly changing nature where marketers need to stay abreast of trends. In this type of changing market, snack producers don’t have the option to sit still.

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