While Europe and North America make up the majority of worldwide snack sales (US$167 billion and US$124 billion respectively), Southeast Asia’s developing nations are contributing significantly to the category’s growth, posting 3.6% year-on-year growth compared to 2% globally*.
And spending on snack foods is forecast to further increase as the region welcomes almost 300 million new consumers in the next decade; rising income levels and a burgeoning middle class population will fuel growth in the coming years. To take a sizable bite of the opportunity, it is critical for snack food manufacturers to align strategies with the growing middle class and consumers’ evolving taste and health considerations.
The reasons why consumers snack are diverse and varied. In Southeast Asia, consumers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam rank enjoyment as the foremost reason for snacking, a view shared by majority of global respondents. Conversely, 74% of consumers in the Philippines view snacks as a source of nutrition and nearly eight out of 10 Thai consumers (79%) snack to satisfy a craving. Snacking is also considered by many as a moment for sharing with family and friends and satisfying hunger between meals, giving rise to opportunities to adjust packaging for single serves for snacking in between meals or family-size packs for sharing.
Consumers in Southeast Asia are looking for fresh snacks which offer health and nutrition benefits, but they’re also looking for an occasional treat. In the past 30 days, Southeast Asian respondents ate a wide variety of snacks, including fresh fruit, chocolate, bread/sandwich, yogurt and fried banana.
On the whole, consumers in the region are relatively healthy snackers, with fresh fruits topping the list of most popular snacks. Vietnamese (30%), Indonesians (26%) and Thais (23%) say that fresh fruit is their snack of choice, compared to 18% of consumers globally, while Filipinos (31%), Singaporeans (20%), and Malaysians (17%) rank bread/sandwich as their preferred snack followed by fresh fruit.
Consumers in the region care more about the absence of ingredients than the addition of them. No artificial colours rates as the most important health attribute for Indonesians (56%), Malaysians (49%) and Thais (45%), while all natural ingredients is the priority for three in five Vietnamese consumers (60%), low salt and no artificial colours top the list for Singaporeans (34%) and Filipinos look for beneficial ingredients, rating fibre as the most important attribute in the snacks they eat (63%).
Filipinos and Vietnamese are the most environmentally conscious consumers, with half of Filipino respondents saying that it is very important that snacks include ingredients that are organic and 40% preferring the uses local herbs. Close to half of Vietnamese consumers (45%) say sustainable sourcing is important.
To fulfil a craving and heighten the snacking moment for Southeast Asian consumers, fresh, crunchy and indulgent snacks resonate as the most important taste/texture attribute in the snacks they eat. Filipino respondents place the highest level of importance on freshness (75%), followed by Vietnamese (62%), Malaysians (54%), Indonesians (52%), Singaporeans (48%), and Thais (40%). Flavour is also an important taste/texture attribute for the majority of consumers in the region.
Within the snack food market there are two ends of the consumer spectrum; impulse-driven snackers who try a variety of snacks to satisfy their craving and primarily consume snacks immediately after purchase, and the purposeful and planned snackers. On the whole, Southeast Asian consumers tend to have a planned approach to their snack consumption. These consumers buy snacks in the store aisle, plan their purchases before they get to the store, and have a few snacks they keep in rotation.
Notably, however, many consumers in the region exhibit characteristics of spontaneous snackers, including trying new snacks, buying a variety of snacks, and making unplanned snack purchases. Spontaneous snackers often eat snacks as soon as they buy them and tend to buy snacks at the check-out counter.
Opportunities abound with strategic placement of snacks to ensure both ends of the spectrum are catered for. Purposeful snackers know what they want in a snack and are very selective about what they choose. For these consumers, it is important to clearly state product features such as sustainable sourcing and fair-trade. Conversely, getting products in high visibility areas, particularly in front-of-store locations, is key to cornering the impulse-driven snack market.
Snack manufacturers must understand consumer demand and what drives their need states in order to innovate offerings which incorporate the right balance of healthy and indulgence. Localising product portfolios to appeal to the taste and health preferences of Southeast Asian consumers is a critical factor in any successful growth strategy.
* Source: Nielsen Retail Sales, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, 2014
Insights contained in this article are based on The Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking, which polled more than 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries to identify which snacks are most popular around the world and which health, taste and texture attributes are most important in the selection criteria.