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Even though American consumers are facing a tough time economically, snack foods are still important in their daily diets; although many have significantly changed their priorities when choosing their snacks as they look for the best value.

That is one of the primary conclusions of the 2009 State of the Snack Industry report presented on 31 March at the Snack Food Association's annual convention, SNAXPO, held in Orlando March 29-April 1, by Sally Lyons Wyatt, Senior Vice President, Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

After snack household penetration declined most of 2007 and into the first quarter of 2008, Wyatt said they increased by 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 over the same period in the previous year. Still, she said, 79 percent of consumers say they are looking for the best value when they purchase their snack products.

Consumer rituals have changed. According to IRI's research, 35.5 percent are making their snacks last longer, 54.3 percent are purchasing what's on sale instead of their favorite brands, and 47.5 percent are cutting back what they spend on snacking. In fact, many shoppers have turned to private label, which gained 8 share points in volume and 6 share points in total sales over the past year.

Within the snacks category as tracked by IRI, dollar sales were up 4% led by yogurt (+9%), salty snacks (+7%), crackers (+7%), and snack nuts (+6%), reflecting price increases resulting from high commodity costs. Total snack volume sales declined by 1% with only the yogurt category (+1%) posting a gain within the top 10 categories.
Wyatt said consumers continue to seek out healthier snack products as concern about wellness increases. However, she also mentioned manufacturers should not sacrifice their "indulgent" products because 47 per cent say they just want to eat what tastes good.

"You want to make sure you satisfy the consumer's need for healthier snacks, but don't give up on indulgent products," she advised. "Treat them. They love an indulgence after a long day at work."

Another consumer concern when they purchase snack products is the impact on the environment, "sustainability", according to IRI. "Consumers are more aware," said Wyatt, noting that 30 per cent want to see biodegradable packaging, for example, and 22 per cent are interested in purchasing natural and organic products.
"They want to be sure we are doing as much for the earth as we possibly can," Wyatt said.

She suggested that snack food marketers tell their customers in their advertising or on their packages about the healthfulness of their products, or the efforts they are taking to protect the environment - or both. All of that, she added, is part of the "value" that consumers are seeking.

In addition, she said, reaching snack buyers at home is critical, as increasing numbers of shoppers make their buying decisions at home before they leave for the store.
"There are different ways you can deliver value to the consumer and you need to think about that as you develop your strategies," Wyatt advised.

Note: SFA's State of the Industry Report for 2009, which is based on data supplied by IRI, will be published in the May 2009 edition of SFA's official magazine; Snack World.

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