Snacks now account for half of all eating occasions, with breakfast and lunch in particular.
NEW YORK — As round-the-clock grazing upends the way people eat, companies are re-imagining foods that aren’t normally seen as snacks to elbow in on the trend.
That means everything including grilled chicken, cereal, chocolate, peanut butter and even Spam are being marketed as snacks.
Some are trying to jump into the party by playing up protein. Meat-processing giant Tyson launched Hillshire Snacking this year with packs of cutup chicken that people are supposed to grab and eat with their hands (120 calories per pack). Canned meat maker Hormel is testing “Spam Snacks,” which are dried chunks of the famous meat in re-sealable bags (220 calories per bag).
People with a sweet tooth aren’t being forgotten. After years of slumping cereal sales, Kellogg recently introduced Kellogg’s To Go pouches, which hold slightly larger pieces of cereal the company says were “specifically created to be eaten by hand” (190 calories per pouch, comparable in size to a bag of potato chips).
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Even Hershey is trying to become more of a snacks player with “snack mixes” that seem like trail mix, except with Reese’s peanut butter cups and mini chocolate bars (280 calories per package).
“People are snacking more and more, sometimes instead of meals, sometimes with meals, and sometimes in between meals,” said Marcel Nahm, who heads North American snacks for Hershey.
He said Hershey’s research shows some people snack “10 times a day.”
Snacking has been encroaching on meals for years, of course, fueled in part by the belief that several smaller meals a day are better than three big ones. Snacks now account for half of all eating occasions, with breakfast and lunch in particular becoming “snackified,” according to the Hartman Group, a food-industry consultancy based in Bellevue.
But more recently, the blurring lines are making people reach for snacks with benefits they might otherwise get from a meal, like protein or fiber. That has led to ingredients like chickpeas, lentils and quinoa popping up in snacks. And it’s inspiring some companies to try and transform everyday foods into more exciting snacks.
Snacks can have good profit margins, too. Prices will vary depending on the retailer, but the suggested retail price for a snack pack of Hillshire’s grilled chicken is $2.49, while Kellogg’s To Go pouch sells for about $2.
Claudia Zapata, a registered dietitian in San Antonio, Texas, noted that snacks should generally be 250 calories at most and are meant to tide people over between meals.
“Well, that was the point of snacks back then. I don’t know what the point is now,” she said.
Zapata noted there is a lot of mindless eating going on, and that people should stop and ask themselves whether they’re even hungry before diving into a snack. “It may be that you just need water,” she said.