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Oreo effect: Consumers make room for snacks, despite high prices

Three-quarters of consumers keep buying snacks from big brands, no matter the economy, according to Mondelēz.

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Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

People eat to satisfy hunger, but our food choices are shaped by more than just what’s inside of us.

From societal norms to the economy, a number of external factors shape what we choose to eat, and when we eat it.

That can be especially true of snacking. It occupies a unique role in food culture, falling between meals and often untethered to an eating setting. Rather than preparing snacks, we typically keep them around, using them as a pick-me-up when we call upon them – or they call upon us.

Where do they fit now? Over the last two years, a big change in consumer behavior came as a result of inflation and supply chain issues. Seeing higher prices for gas, food and now rent, some people are being more picky about luxurious purchases, while seeking to stretch dollars. So the question was, would snacks change with it?

The answer provided by one CPG survey is a resounding no.

According to the State of Snacking Report issued this week by Ritz and Oreo maker Mondelēz International and Harris Poll, nine in 10 global consumers are concerned about inflation, while over half report that they are paying more for groceries now than at this time last year.

Yet snacks are remaining resilient in the consumer mind. The report found:

  • Three-quarters of respondents said they always find room in their budget for snacks, and 80% of millennials do.
  • About two-thirds of consumers agreed with the statement: “In tough times, snacks are the one thing I can count on.”
  • Six-in-10 said snacking helps them take their mind off the world.
  • Two-thirds of consumers said they would buy less of their favorite brand of snack, rather than opt for a private label.

It underscores another unique place that snacks have in our lives: They are an affordable luxury. It's the kind of every day splurge that people turn to when they want a bit of indulgence, or even to make themselves feel better in a tough time. Former Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder coined the “lipstick index” to describe a similar phenomenon that drove beauty sales up during a recession. Now it is playing out during this era of pullback in snacking, as well. There was no better sign of this than a Frito Lay multipack becoming the sixth-most-purchased item on an Amazon Prime Day that fell near the peak of inflation, according to Numerator.

Call it the Oreo effect.

Supply chain issues also played a role in shaping snacking, but with a silver lining. While just over half of consumers experienced a shortage or delay in receiving snacks over the last year, it also opened up new opportunities.

Six in 10 said supply chain issues led them to be more open to trying different kinds of snacks, with Gen Z and millennials coming in 70%. Three quarters also agree that “bigger brands are better equipped to deliver during challenging times.”

“Our State of Snacking report confirms that in these trying times, consumers around the world view their favorite snacks as affordable and necessary indulgences,” said Dirk Van de Put, CEO of Mondelēz International, in a statement. “Snacking continues to be a way for consumers to connect or to enjoy a moment of delight in their day, further demonstrating our belief that every snack can be enjoyed in a mindful way.”

Here are a few more insights about the role snacks play in consumers' lives from the report:

  • Snack times: 71% of consumers snack at least twice a day.
  • Savoring it: 78% of consumers report they take time to savor indulgent snacks, while 61% say they take time to portion out snacks before eating them.
  • Between all meals: About 55% reported a higher likelihood to eat a snack across all three standard mealtimes.
  • Sustainability: Seven in 10 consumers said they prioritize snacks that have less packaging, and 72% said they typically recycle it.
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