It's convenient to reach for a package of guacamole and organic corn chips, but what does that mean for your lifestyle, health, and the planet?
Gourmet snacks are the newest food fad. The generation of Millennials in the United States is driving the change within the food industry, much to the delight of food manufacturers, who stand to profit tremendously from the sales of snacks.
Millennials want convenience, together with healthfulness. Many live busy, hectic lifestyles that make cooking full meals a challenge, which is why they prefer to eat ‘healthy’ snacks on the go, in single-serve quantities that provide enough to stave off the hunger pains until the next round of snacking begins.
No longer do plain nuts, yogurt, or pieces of bread and fruit suffice. These fussy foodies want gourmet snacks such as chicken bites with mango habanero and spicy chipotle dipping sauces and antipasto-style plates of salami, cheese, and crackers. They eat cottage cheese, guacamole, and hummus by the cupful, along with crunchy peanut butter bites and seeded crackers by the boxful.
The industry has taken note. While Kellogg’s diet cereal sales have plummeted, it has seen cracker sales go from 20 percent of total company sales in 2000 almost 50 percent in 2015. The Chicago Tribune reports:
“The brands have been revamped, and boxes include buzzwords like ‘nourish’ instead of ‘diet,’ and Kellogg is focusing the brands on hand-held forms, instead of just cereal by the bowl. ‘The expectation of consumers in the snack market has changed’ [says Kellogg CEO John Bryant].”
Snack foods tend to cost much more than traditional meal ingredients, and they can be displayed in prominent (convenient!) locations near the front of the store. If they are relatively healthy, they are just the sort of thing that people don’t hesitate to grab if there’s a rumble in their tummy and a few hours to go before getting home.
Ultimately, the snacking explosion is not beneficial for many people other than the manufacturers. The Chicago Tribune quotes Georgie Fear, registered dietician and author of “Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss”:
"Snacking or frequent eating tends to be less satisfying to your brain. It's hard to feel like we've eaten if we've just unwrapped a bar.” In general, frequent snacks lead to "more dishes, more calories, and they've also hampered people's decision-making abilities" because people can use snacks as an emotional crutch.
Then there is the huge – and often ignored – problem of additional waste. Single-serve portions usually come in difficult-to-recycle plastic packaging that gets tossed within minutes of opening. The instant gratification of one’s hunger on the move will have lasting repercussions for the planet. By far the greener way is to buy food in bulk quantities, using reusable containers, and packing one’s own snacks to eat when needed. It also saves money.