general mills snacks
Oct 15, 2014 • By

How your cravings become snacks

It’s 3:30 p.m. You had a healthy salad for lunch then a busy afternoon. Now your stomach is starting to growl, your energy is getting low and you’re starting to crave something sweet, but not too sweet. Something like dessert, but healthier and substantial enough to carry you through until dinner. And there it is – a container of Yoplait Greek Key Lime that hits all the right notes.

But how do companies know exactly how to take your craving and make it into the perfect snack? And why are snacks becoming so important anyway?

“How do we know what people want? We talk to people about snacking!” says Donna Melville, consumer insights director, in our Snacks division. “We see what it looks like around their houses, we go shopping with them, we ask what they’re feeling. And, it turns out, today, snacks have a lot of jobs.”

In fact, the role of snacks has changed dramatically in just a few short years. In 2010, snacks were 49 percent of all total eating occasions. In 2012, snacks were 53 percent of total eating occasions. And the numbers continue to rise, according to the recent Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking.

“Families are much more heavily scheduled than in the past, so eating meals together has decreased,” says Donna. “It’s more acceptable to have snacks as meals. Snacking is less formal, meals are more formal. Snacks don’t have a lot of rules. And our culture has become one where we don’t like to wait for anything and snacks are instant.”

Through her consumer research, Donna has found that one of the top challenges facing families is what to make for dinner. With snacks as “mini-meals,” parents don’t need to worry about pleasing their families or anyone else – everyone can have it their own way.


“We talk to consumers to find out where they’re satisfied and where they struggle,” says Donna. “Then we ask, ‘How do we develop new products or make existing products address those needs?’”

If, for example, you skip lunch you may be looking for a substantial snack with protein to help you make it to dinner. Perhaps lunch wasn’t satisfying and you’ve got some low afternoon energy.

Fiber One Protein Bars are a great solution, according to Donna. “Their job is for the 3 p.m. vending machine candy run. They taste good, but have protein and fiber to satisfy hunger. They take away candy cravings and fill people up.”


Any time is snack o’clock

But late afternoon “hangries” are far from the only snack occasion people take advantage of.

Early morning breakfast (or skipping breakfast in the morning) often leads to a mid-morning snack and late nights plus nostalgia often lead consumers to grab a bowl of cereal.

“The way consumers are eating is impacting breakfast,” says Jenny Peterson, director of consumer insights, Big G cereals. “Snacking is now surpassing eating occasions and we know that at least 10 percent of cereal is eaten outside of breakfast.”

Jenny says they hear from consumers through syndicated data, in-person “speed dating” type focus groups and social listening (blogs, social media). They use the data gathered to meet consumers where they are at and ensure products and messaging line up with how consumers are using cereal.

“Cereal is versatile. It tastes great and it’s a better-for-you after school and late night snack, she says.

She points to Nature Valley Protein Granola as an example of how consumers are using cereal in many ways. “Lots of people tell us they put it on top of something else like yogurt or just munch on it straight up as a snack.”

And, to acknowledge this shift in eating by consumers, cereal brands are speaking to them through messaging like the Cheerios “3rd Shift” ad and Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s late night snack campaign.

late night snack

“We understand you because we do it too!” Jenny says.

Convenient, affordable AND delicious

Because the American idea of snacking has evolved, expectations for their snacks are also higher.

“Consumers expect more from their frozen snacks beyond convenience and affordability,” says Heidi Keefe, senior manager, global consumer insights lead, in our Frozen Frontier division. “They want them to be a snack, mini meal and sometimes dinner – basically be flexible to fit into the way they’re eating now.”

Heidi says she sees the influence of global flavors and consumers demanding new, bolder flavors and foods that provide fun, unique experiences. In response to consumer feedback, Totino’s has developed a line of BOLD Pizza Rolls to be quick, fun and tasty so young adults can “find epic moments every day.”


Nibblr snacks also serve up variety and interesting flavors with a subscription box model.

The snacking lifestyle

As if all that weren’t enough, snacks are now also part of a lifestyle for many people.

“Our products are tightly aligned with our consumers’ value systems,” says Kaia Kegley, consumer insights manager, Small Planet Foods. “For example, we know how important having few, simple ingredients are to our Lärabar customers, so we ensure that our products adhere to tight product guidelines to meet these needs.”

Kaia and the Small Planet Foods team talk to consumers on a regular basis to understand what they purchase and snack on, but they also follow emerging trends in the natural and organic industries. “Our consumers are always discovering – they’re never done,” she says. “Therefore, we need to be discovering and weaving those elements into our new products.”

The Lärabar REnola product is a prime example of this discovery process.

“Lärabars are a great fit with the Paleo diet that’s growing in popularity,” she says. “We started work on a loose mix with fruits, nuts and seeds and little else. The result is a super delicious snack that Paleo followers and non-followers alike love.”


Just as snacking has evolved, American attitudes toward snacking have changed as well. Only about 47 percent of Americans try to avoid snacking entirely and it is no longer viewed as something negative to be avoided.

So tell us, how do you snack and what do you crave, America?

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