How “snacking” is radically affecting the food industry?

August 24, 2017

By: Rafael Tonon

What the habit of snacking throughout the day can teach us about the way we eat

A study released by the market research company The NPD Group points out that visits to restaurants during “snack occasions” rose 3 percent last year. Meanwhile, visits to restaurants at lunch fell 2 percent. Breakfast slowed, growing just 1 percent, and dinner was flat. The numbers say people are going to restaurants during the afternoon snack daypart more often than they go for a mid-day meal. And this is a good reflection of our times.

With more people working as freelancers and without the strict hours to punch in and out of work, our meal time has been changing. With the fall of the Industrial Age, it makes less sense for us to work in shifts or need specific times to have our meals – and to split them in breakfast or lunch, for example. Today, in the height of the creative economy, in which people have freed themselves from the clock (even if they are working longer…), following strict schedules has fallen into disuse. The best time to eat is when you are hungry – or when you finally finish that arduous report. And not necessarily when the clock strikes 12am.

By responding to the physiological needs of our body, one does not have to put big amounts of food in the stomach. More than ever, people feel more like snacking. Eater have recently published an article about why all-day dining is the breakout trend of 2017. According to the text, “fewer people are required to spend their days inside an office, and for many, restaurants and cafes are meeting and work spaces as well. What’s more, the all-day format gives restaurants the opportunity to become fixtures in their communities at all times”.

Eating all-day long 

Chef Camille Becerra, from the all-day restaurant De Maria, in New York City, asks: “Why can’t your go-to spot accommodate you for breakfast, dinner, and drinks?”. More and more restaurants (like hers) seem to have assimilated this need for “a.m.-to-p.m businesses” to meet a new customers’ demand to split their meals into “snack breaks” during all the day. People are taking different time breaks to eat.

But this “snacking” trend ended up changing even how some restaurants present their menus. Not only by offering, for example, what would be considered breakfast options throughout the day (why can’t I eat French toast, eggs and bacon for dinner?), but also how they are serving their dishes. The portions got smaller, or have been “snacked down” – as one could say, keeping their eyes in this new behavior.

The truth is that this “snackfication” of our food helped some chefs rescue the tasting menu, by serving little portions of their recipes in a longer (and more interesting) multi-course meal.

Mexican chef Enrique Olvera built a counter bar in his recently remodelated restaurant Pujol, in Mexico City, to serve tacos (and other Mexican traditional food) in a omakase menu, where diners can taste from a wider range of recipes and flavors in only one meal. With this “sushi-inspired” taco menu, his clients can eat more – in variations , not only in quantity.

A little of each

Brazilian chef Jefferson Rueda created a similar format to his famous and always crowded A Casa do Porco, in Downtown São Paulo. Since his diners used to ask to taste small portions of each option from the menu, in order to try different things, he decided to create the “A Little of Each” menu. “It was a way to meet the clients’ request. They wanted to try all the menu at once, but they couldn’t if we served the regular portions”, he says.

Consumers are increasingly making more visits to restaurants during the afternoon snack daypart, at the expense of the mid-day meal.

If even restaurants businesses took advantage of this behavior from its costumers, what could we say about the big food industry?

Even chefs are working to put a complete meal in their clients’ pockets instead of in their fridge. Literally. Now that traditional bars have gone mainstream (with giants such as Mars and The Hershey Co. getting in the market), some of them are creating artisanal treats that are reshaping the snack-bar category. Not only are they doing it on a more delicious and nutricious way, they are also trying to create super convenient, nutrient packed meals that are space and time saving. These new meal replacements turned from liquid to solid – and are coming in pocket-size bars.

Snack food x main meals

The rise of these new bars is redefining our meals and blurring the lines between snack foods and main meals. They allow us to deliver the right amount of nutrients our body needs wherever we are. Unwrap a bar and your meal is ready. The distinction with these new generation bars is that they are not conventional snacks; they’re intended to replace typical regular food plans, even if in smaller, more frequent portions.

More and more new products show up on the shelves with the appeal of meeting our needs for a snack. Everything has been “snacked”. A proof that we no longer want to have to wait for lunch or dinner to meet our physical needs. By opening a snack package or asking for a smaller portion of our favorite recipe in the restaurant in the late afternoon, we can kill our hunger – and, by the way, break the barriers of the meal times as we know it.

Rafael Tonon

+ posts by Rafael

Rafael Tonon is a journalist and food writer. He writes about food, drinks and trends in gastronomy. He contributes to many media outlets, such as Eater, Vice, Slate and more. He maintains the trend food blog What the Fork.

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