Snacking is the new American pastime, acccording to the recent survey by Mintel which found that nearly all Americans (94 percent) report snacking at least once a day and 50 percent of adults snack two to three times per day.

70 percent agreeing that anything can be considered a snack these days and in that context frequent snacking may be replacing standard daily meals, according to Snacking Motivations and Attitudes US 2015, though Americans claim a preference for healthier snacking with 33 percent saying they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year, specifically those with simple ingredients and low calorie counts. However, they most often snack to satisfy a craving (62 percent), highlighting the important role taste and flavor play on snacking behavior. Mintel's Salty Snacks US 2015 report indicates that 63 percent of US consumers value the taste of salty snacks more than their nutrition.

Snacking is a way of life for Millennials

Millennials (consumers age 21-38) are significantly more likely to snack compared to older consumers with 24 percent of Millennials most likely to snack frequently, four or more times per day, and 23 percent snacking more this year compared to last year. When compared to other generations, Millennial consumers are more likely to be emotional or functional snackers. Nearly a third (27 percent) snack because they are bored and 17 percent snack because they are stressed. Mintel research also shows that the Millennial generation snacks for function and to stay focused throughout the day with 39 percent snacking for energy.

Overall, 62 percent of US consumers snack mainly to satisfy a craving. This is a strong driver for older consumers, especially those age 55-62 (70 percent). Nearly one third of consumers (31 percent) snack for the practical reason that it's not the right time to eat a meal (ie too early/too late). Other reasons are less functional and more emotional; according to Mintel's research, one quarter of Americans snack because they are bored - increasing from 23 percent in 2014 to 25 percent in 2015 - while 16 percent do so because they are stressed.

"Our research shows that Millennials are more likely to snack compared to older generations as a means to fulfill emotional and functional needs, including combating boredom or stress and increasing energy and focus. Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats," said Amanda Topper, Food Analyst at Mintel. "Millennials are also more likely than older generations to indicate snacks with added nutrition and flavor variety are important to them. As a result they may be drawn to products with high fiber, energizing claims or protein content to stay satiated, as well as bold flavors to help add variety to their frequent snacking occasions and eliminate boredom."

Both retail location and word of mouth are important influences on iGeneration/Millennials' (consumers age 18-38) snacking behavior. This generation is most likely to try a snack that has been recommended to them (68 percent) and most likely to go out of their way to buy snacks from a specific store (43 percent). iGen/Millennials are drawn to organic snacks and products with added nutrition, including protein and vitamins. Ultimately, affordability is more important to this generation, creating an opportunity for health-focused or organic brands to reach them with low-cost snacking options.

Consumers find a balance between health and indulgence

Health plays a prevalent role in the types of snacks consumers are eating. More than one third of snackers limit their intake of sweet snacks, such as cookies, candy and ice cream (34 percent). This is especially true among the Swing Generation/World War II or consumers age 70 and older (45 percent). Furthermore, 33 percent of US consumers indicate they are snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year.

According to Mintel research, the percentage of US adults who snack only on healthy foods has increased over time. In 2008-09, 25 percent of adults claimed to snack only on healthy foods, compared to 29 percent in 2013-14.

Not only are consumers eating healthier snacks, but nearly one third (30 percent) of parents are serving healthier snacks to their children, particularly 33 percent of Millennial parents. While healthy snacking options are a win for US parents, 42 percent of households with children agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or resealable packages.

Mintel's research shows that convenience is one of the most important factors when selecting a snack; 77 percent of snackers prefer ready-to-eat snacks over those you have to prepare.

Despite these increases in healthy eating habits among US consumers, 60 percent wish there were more healthy snack options. However, Mintel research shows that even though consumers want more healthy snack options, they place more importance on taste and flavor than healthfulness when making purchase decisions. When it comes to choosing snack options, 74 percent of consumers agree flavor is more important than brand, while 51 percent agree taste is more important than health.

"With a third of consumers saying they are snacking on healthier options more often this year compared to last year, there will be an increasing need for better-for-you snacks, in smaller portions and convenient formats. This addresses consumers' desire to balance both health and indulgence," concluded Topper. "Mintel data shows that consumers, especially households with children, agree there are not enough conveniently packaged snacks, such as individual portions or resealable packages. This highlights a need for balance between convenience and affordability, knowing the importance many consumers, especially younger consumers, place on affordable snacks."