A Healthy Obsession: Millennial Feel-Good Snack Trends

Posted in Millennials on October 3, 2016

Snacks low in calories and high in nutrition are gaining popularity as more and more consumers become health conscious and demand options with traceable and trustworthy origins. Taking a bite out of the snack market is no small feat, given the fact that snack sales account for 40% of the $370 billion U.S. packaged food market, with projected annual growth of 2% through 2019.1 Driving this growth are millennials, who tend to snack significantly more than previous generations. As Amanda Topper, a food analyst with Mintel, explained, ”Older consumers did not grow up with all-day snacking and may continue to view snacks as treats."2

photo-1472555794301-77353b152fb7.jpgRaised at a time when the problem of widespread obesity had reached crisis proportions and became too high-profile to ignore, millennials were weaned on media coverage and school nutrition programs that propelled the backlash against sugary and high-sodium snacks. Their healthy obsession with fresh, unprocessed ingredients has been a defining factor in clean label snacking trends, which have banished once-common artificial additives, high calorie counts, trans fats and hydrogenated oils. 

Judging a Snack by Its Label

Clean labeling has become one of the most influential foodservice trends in shaping millennial perceptions of products. Many manufacturers use it as proof of having de-junked and reformulated a product to meet the demand for greater transparency. By replacing long, fine-print rundowns of hard-to-decipher additives and preservatives with short lists of wholesome ingredients, clean labels have become a badge of honor.

Since consumers have become skeptical of any ingredient they don’t immediately recognize as natural and healthy, the shorter, simpler, and easier to understand the ingredients, the greater the clean perception. “Lean and clean” seems to have become the mantra for millennial menu innovation. As a result, it has become as important for restaurants as it has for retailers to list ingredients. More and more restaurants list ingredients for each menu item, and wait staff are trained to educate patrons on the traceable origins and nutritional value of the dishes offered.

Healthy Snacking as the Cure for Boredom

The challenge has become to balance the demand for clean food with the millennial passion for bold flavors and adventurous culinary experiences. As a substitute for sodium, seasonings that reflect millennial diversity and a taste for ethnic cuisine have become go-to ingredients. A popular restaurant trend is to offer authentic regional cuisine that caters to the worldly and cosmopolitan millennial mindset.

The millennial insistence on flavorful yet healthful snacks underscores their tendency to be emotional or functional snackers. Mintel research shows that 17% of millennials snack to relieve stress, 27% to combat boredom, and 39% for an energy boost to stay focused and productive.2 They view snacks not only in terms of physical health but as aids to emotional and psychological vitality. They want snacks that make them feel good in more ways than one.

“As a result,” said Mintel Food Analyst Amanda Topper, “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.” Healthy snacks satisfy a need for comfort food with ingredients and origins that millennials can be comfortable with. Snacking is still considered an indulgence--just one that indulges the millennial appetite for healthy options. For more on healthy snacks, check out "The Secrets to Healthy Snack Sales" and "Forward Thinking for Health Back-to-School Food Options."

Do you think healthy eating and clean labeling will continue to revolutionize the snacking industry? How have they impacted your bottom line? Share your impressions and experiences below.

1 Crawford, Elizabeth, “Millennials are driving snack sales growth & reshaping how Americans eat, Euromonitor says,” May 22, 2015,

2 Mintel, “A Snacking Nation: 94% of Americans Snack Daily,” July 9, 2015,


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