Dutch researchers work to discover the key to consumers’ ideal snack

17 Aug 2020

Dutch researchers found that people associated their ideal snack with the words “warm,” “sweet,” “cold,” “savory,” and “healthy.” The study, which looked at divorcing healthy and unhealthy labels from an ideal snack, found that these specific adjectives were not reflected in these participants’ descriptions when focused on the health of a snack. Instead, consumers looked for options to be “tasty” when perceived through the lens of healthy or unhealthy.

Due to the explorative nature of the research that employed word association, researchers said that they could not formulate a hypothesis on their findings. However, the findings suggest that the idea of an ideal snack is not necessarily a healthy snack, but that the concept is not at odds with being good for one’s health.

Dutch researchers work to discover the key to consumers’ ideal snack

Researchers found that snacking behavior is influenced by today’s “obesogenic” environment that hammers home the message that qualities such as sweetness, saltiness and fat are emblematic of tastiness. However, although tastiness was considered important for both healthy and unhealthy snacks, the words used to describe tastiness in an ideal snack were closely linked to texture and did not exclusively feature unhealthy qualities, suggesting that the association of taste with unhealthy is a matter of habit and that tasty foods could have a broader definition.

Despite consumers continuing to widely partake in unhealthy snacking, the market for healthy snacks is ballooning. Frito-Lay found that both better-for-you products and functional health benefits would be some of the top trends driving snacks in 2020, and a NutritionInsight report found that half of Generation X wants to limit their sugar intake while snacking and over half of baby boomers are looking to improve their diets to become healthier.

However, this study suggests that the healthfulness of a snack is not the primary motivator behind a person’s decision to purchase a product. Instead, taste may be at the top of the list. The study noted that the notion of “healthy” food was often associated with giving up good taste. As a result, unhealthy snacking options are perceived to be more satisfying than healthy alternatives and people were found to consume more of a “healthy” snack in order to reach the same level of satiety as someone who indulged.

This study aimed to synthesize the apparent contradictory relationship between health and taste to offer “a good understanding of what an ideal snack that meets both health and hedonic criteria should be like.”

These findings will undoubtedly be valuable to manufacturers that are looking to debut snacks that appeal to a wide range of consumers as the snacking trend continues to take hold. Global market research firm Innova Market Insights found that people are replacing their three square meals with multiple mini-meals at a large scale. The research showed that 46% of people have a salty snack in the afternoon and 37% enjoy a salty bite to eat in the evening.