CHICAGO -- As the popularity of snacking continues to climb, salty snacks are becoming the new comfort food for U.S. consumers. The latest research from Mintel suggests that 62% of consumers are eating salty snacks as a stress reliever, compared with 16% of American snackers who cited stress as a reason for snacking one year ago.
What's more, 30% of consumers eat salty snacks when they are bored, with 51% agreeing that salty snacking is a good way to relieve boredom. In 2015, Mintel research found that half as many consumers (25%) snacked because they were bored.
The portability of salty snacks allows consumers to alleviate their stress on the go, with 33% of salty snackers saying they eat them away from home and 26% eating them at work. Parents are among America's most prevalent salty snackers and are increasingly likely to snack on salty options while on the go (41%), at work (36%) and throughout the day (34%).
U.S. parents (73%) are more likely than non-parents (55%) to agree that snacking is a stress reliever. According to Mintel, research suggests that 35% of parents are indulging in the same salty snacks as their children. Parents (58%) are significantly more likely to agree that it's healthier to snack throughout the day than to eat regular meals than non-parents (21%).
With 94% of Americans purchasing salty snacks and 13% replacing meals with them, Mintel research found 74% of surveyed consumers interested in healthier salty snacking options. Another 61% agree that salty snacks have too many artificial ingredients, while 79% find it important to be able to recognize the ingredients in salty snacks. And 58% of salty snack purchasers surveyed agree that it is important to buy salty snacks that contain only a few ingredients, while 62% agree that taste is more important than how healthy a salty snack is.
Despite interest in healthier options, taste trumps all when choosing salty snacks: 62% of consumers agree that taste is more important than how healthy a salty snack is. In fact, a new flavor (38%) is the most influential purchasing factor for American salty snackers, along with spicy flavor (30%) and limited-edition/seasonal flavor (22%).
Taste remains a key purchase factor, as consumers tend to view snacking as a guilty pleasure (69%) and indulge in salty snacking as a way to reward themselves (63%). However, taste and health are not polarizing Americans, as 82% of consumers surveyed agree that salty snacks can be both healthy and tasty.
With consumers looking to balance simplicity and indulgence, meat snacks are driving the salty snacks category, comprising 30% of retail sales, according to Mintel. From 2010 to 2015, sales of meat snacks grew faster than any other segment (55%), benefiting from consumers who are looking for fewer ingredients and healthy options. Mintel research indicates that consumers are more likely to look for no artificial ingredients (22%), organic (17%) and high protein (33%) claims on meat snacks than any other salty snack.
Overall, according to Mintel, the salty snacks category grew 29% from 2010 to 2015, reaching $10.2 billion, with sales projected to climb an additional 22% to $12.4 billion in 2020.
"Brands that focus on products with bold, new flavors that incorporate simple ingredients will offer the best of both worlds to consumers," said Mintel senior food analyst Amanda Topper.