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Global Consumers Nibble, Nosh and Snack Their Way to Big Sales
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Global Consumers Nibble, Nosh and Snack Their Way to Big Sales

Whether you need a quick-fix on the go or a stand-in for a meal, snacks are more than just tasty treats; they’re also big business. Global snack sales totaled $374 billion annually as of March 2014—an increase of 2%* year-over-year, according to Nielsen retail sales data.

Europe ($167 billion) and North America ($124 billion) make up the majority of worldwide snack sales, with sales flat in Europe, and growing at a 2% rate in North America, compared to the previous year. Conversely, while annual snack sales in Asia-Pacific ($46 billion), Latin America ($30 billion) and the Middle East/Africa ($7 billion) are significantly lower than in the other two regions, annual growth in these largely developing regions increased more over the past year—4% in Asia-Pacific, 9% in Latin America and 5% in the Middle East/Africa.

So what types of snacks are driving sales around the world? It depends on where you live.

Confections—which include sugary sweets like chocolate, hard candy and gum—comprise the biggest sales contribution to the overall snack category in Europe ($46.5 billion) and the Middle East/Africa ($1.9 billion). Salty snacks contribute more than one-fifth of snack sales in North America ($27.7 billion), refrigerated snacks comprise almost one-third of snacks in Asia-Pacific ($13.7 billion) and cookies and snack cakes make up more than one-fourth of total snacks in Latin America ($8.6 billion).

While sugary and salty snacks take the lion’s share of sales, the fastest-growing snack categories are the ones to watch. Sales of savory snacks, which include crackers, rice cakes and pita chips, increased 21% in the last year in Latin America. Meat snacks, like jerky and dried meat, grew 25% in the Middle East/Africa and 15% in North America. Refrigerated snacks, including yogurt, cheese snacks and pudding, jumped 6.4% in Asia-Pacific, while dips and spreads, which include salsa and hummus, rose 6.8% in Europe.

“Non-sugary snacks closely aligned with meal-replacement foods are showing strong growth, which signals a shift in a consumer mindset to one focused on health,” said Dunn. “While conventional cookies, cakes and confections categories still hold the majority share of snack sales, more innovation in the healthy snacking and portable food space is necessary to adjust to this changing dynamic.”

Favorite Snack Picks

We asked consumers around the world what one snack they would choose above all others. The overwhelming answer: Fresh fruit. But chocolate was a close second.

Across the regions, and by large margins, global respondents say that fresh fruit (18%) is the snack of choice selected from a list of 47 different snacking options, followed by chocolate (15%). Both snack categories scored more than double or triple the responses for yogurt (6%), bread/sandwiches (6%), cheese (5%), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (5%), vegetables (5%) and ice cream/gelato (4%). Still, as the wide range of low percentages suggest, consumers’ preferences vary greatly when it comes to picking a favorite.

Choosing just one snack is hard, which is why consumers don’t. They want variety.

In the span of 30 days, at least half of global respondents say they ate chocolate (64%), fresh fruit (62%), vegetables (52%), cookies/biscuits (51%), bread/sandwich (50%) and yogurt (50%). More than four in 10 respondents consumed cheese (46%), potato chips/tortilla chips/crisps (44%) and nuts/seeds (41%). One-third chewed gum (33%) and devoured ice cream/gelato (33%), while about one-fourth munched on popcorn (29%), crackers/crisp breads (28%) and cereal (27%). Softer offerings like dumplings (26%) and instant noodles (26%) were also popular with a quarter of respondents.

Taste preferences for snack options are noticeably different around the world. Besides fresh fruit and chocolate, large percentages of respondents also snack on vegetables in Asia-Pacific (57%), cheese in Europe (58%), bread/sandwiches in the Middle East/Africa (47%), ice cream/gelato in Latin America (63%) and potato chips/tortilla chips in North America (63%). 

“In the dichotomy of snacking, consumers want healthy, but yet indulgent options are still going strong,” said Dunn. “A better understanding of consumer demand and the need states that drive demographic profile preferences will help manufacturers crack the code on the right portfolio balance between indulgence and healthy. It will also increase the odds of success in this ultra-competitive landscape.” 

The report also discusses:

  • The attributes and motivations that drive snacking around the globe.
  • Regional preferences for where we purchase snacks.
  • Strategies and trends that will shape the future of snacking.

For more detail and insight, download Nielsen’s Global Survey of Snacking.

About the Nielsen Global Survey

The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access across 60 countries. While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective only on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. In developing markets where online penetration has not reached majority potential, audiences may be younger and more affluent than the general population of that country. Additionally, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data.

*Adjusted for inflation.