Snacking Trends in Europe - “Taste first, think second”

5/7/2021 1

One of the easiest ways to monitor how our lifestyles are changing and evolving is to look at the way we eat. When it comes to food choices, now more than ever, we are living in the era of abundance. In Europe, many cultures that were always dictated by a fairly strict eating schedule

- three meals a day, nothing in between - have adopted increasingly individualistic eating habits. Busier lifestyles, unorthodox work and family situations and the rise of convenience food has indelibly shaped the food landscapes of people in countries across the continent. In this article, we will look at the snacking sector, how it is growing and what are the trends driving that growth, with a focus on the idea of “Taste first, think second”.


A closer look at snacking

When examining food cultures and eating habits, snacking is one of the most interesting areas to focus on. Firstly, because snacking products, which make up 1.5% of the EU Food & Beverage market, have myriad representations across thousands of food companies across the globe. Yet although very different in terms of their branding, ingredients and target markets, snack companies are always unified in their goal to produce convenient food that can be consumed with zero prior preparation. Secondly, the snacking sector must constantly adapt, and often much faster than other food sectors, because it is so closely linked to social trends.

Thirdly, snacking, as well as being a way to satisfy hunger quickly, is also intrinsically linked to emotions. Snacks are, in fact, quite unique in being one of the few types of food that we consume to satisfy urges other than hunger, for example boredom. The snacking sector is one that in recent years has been in an almost constant state of growth as snack foods become more mainstream and, for many, a legitimate replacement for a main meal.


So why do we snack? Of course, the main reason is to quickly satisfy our hunger cravings and even within this point there are several sub-sections, from fueling up before or after a workout to when we simply don’t have time to prepare a proper meal. The second motivator for snacking is the one that we will be focusing on in this piece, namely the idea of snacking as a way to meet more emotional needs and let us satisfy our craving for brief indulgence.


Taste first, think second

This brings us to the trend of “Taste first, think second”. The snack industry is hugely influenced by social trends and the concept of “Taste first, think second” is no exception. In order to understand this trend, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of one of the reasons food holds such an important place in our society: pleasure. When it comes to snacking, “Taste first, think second” is fundamentally the idea that having a snack is an excuse to take a pause in the busy workday and engage with our senses for a brief moment of pleasure. Particularly in 2020 and the beginning of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns have meant that daily life is increasingly monotonous. It’s therefore unsurprising that consumers look to food as an easy way to add colour and excitement to their days. In fact, according to an Innovations in Snacking report by the Healthy Marketing Team, three quarters of people see snacking as an essential break in their busy day.


One of the most interesting aspects of the “Taste first, think second” trend is that it subverts an established assumption around snacking: that it’s a mindless activity. The convenient nature of snack foods make them the perfect choice for eating in combination with doing other activities, such as working or watching TV. The “Taste first, think second” trend challenges this by making the act of snacking an experience in itself. Perhaps this, too, is a consequence of the pandemic, during which the combination of restricted freedom and the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty has forced us to look for pleasure and stimulation in smaller daily activities. In a report on snacking by FI Global, Marcia Mogelonsky of Mintel described how, as a result of COVID-19, consumers increasingly look to snacking as a way of finding comfort in the everyday.


What are consumers looking for in their snacks?

“Taste first, think second” has raised the stakes for the snacking industry as consumers are demanding more and more from their snack foods. People want snacks whose flavours and textures are sufficiently engaging for the senses that it makes their consumption an experience in itself. This has put pressure on companies to come up with new and exciting flavours, to create hybrid tastes and to look to other cultures for unique and innovative ideas. Consumers are increasingly interested in trying new types of snacks and stepping out of their comfort zone and this removes much of the mindlessness around snacking since it forces our brain to engage with what we’re eating.


One interesting sub-trend that emerged in 2020 is that of the “adult recess”, a break in the day in which adults can take a moment of indulgence. Brands have been responding to this need by marketing products that have a “treat yourself” feel or else a nostalgic touch, such as a new, more mature twist on an old classic - examples of which include crisps with more sophisticated flavours, such as wasabi, or a traditional biscuit with less sugar.


The combination of health and indulgence

Despite the idea of escapism in snacking that “Taste first, think second” implies, it does not, however, represent a desire for total and unrestrained indulgence. Our ever-increasing awareness around health, exacerbated by the pandemic, continues to be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing snacks and consumers are now looking for products that deliver on taste but not at the expense of health. Fundamentally, people want to have their snack and eat it too.


In the context of snacking, indulgence is having a rebrand with many snack brands positioning themselves at the intersection of health and indulgence. Snack companies are taking one of two tactics: either focusing on the idea of moderation, i.e. by framing their products as small experiences of enjoyment that satisfy cravings without going overboard on calories and fat, or else reinventing old classics by upping the nutritional value, such as through adding more protein or swapping refined sugar for plant-based sweeteners.


Consumers are more and more aware of the ingredients of their food products and place a particular importance on quality. The 2019 State of Snacking report by Mondelez showed that 6 out of 10 consumers prefer to eat several small bites throughout the day rather than three large meals and, as such, consumers want their snacks to provide similar nutritional value as a


balanced meal. Even when a snack remains just a snack, consumers tend to favour products that seem more natural and fresh. This means snacks that are “guilt-free” in the sense that they contain no hidden ingredients, additives or preservatives and do not appear to be healthier than they actually are.


Transparency is becoming increasingly essential in snack marketing

This leads us to the final aspect that consumers expect from their snacks with regards to “Taste first, think second”: a good brand that they feel comfortable identifying with. These days, what we eat makes up part of our identity and the diversity and convenience of the snack sector means it is easily influenced by social trends. Consumers are looking for snack brands that fit not just with their lifestyles but with their values and personalities. According to a study by Accenture, over 45% of consumers want to make more sustainable snack choices, which means they’re looking for brands that have a clear ethical stance.


Since “Taste first, think second” is about creating an experience around snacking, the snack in question needs to have an engaging brand that customers can form an emotional connection too. Fundamentally, they want a snack that makes them feel good about themselves both on a physical and an intellectual level. In this regard, the most important things consumers want to know when choosing a snack is where the ingredients come from and how the product is made. In fact, according to a study by Innova, over half of global consumers agree that stories around a brand influence their purchase decision. They are looking for ways to identify and sympathise with the brand’s story in order to connect with what they’re eating in an emotional way. This is tied to the idea of snacking as a way to satisfy boredom or anxiety: consuming the product lets consumers briefly enter the world of the brand and engage with its personality.


How is the snacking sector growing?

In response to consumers’ ever-evolving and increasingly specific requirements, the snack sector is in a near-constant state of rapid innovation. Snack giant Mondeléz has its own innovation and venture hub SnackFutures which, as a response to consumer interest in more ethical snacking, recently launched CoLab, an investment program for US snack start-ups that promote holistic wellbeing. SnackFutures’s collaborators already include brands such as Dirt Kitchen, who produce snacks from food waste, and CaPao, an upcycling brand that creates snacks from parts of the cacao fruit that are not normally used.


Elsewhere, an area that is seeing significant development in the snacking sector is sugar reduction and replacement. A study by Mintel showed that when it comes to unhealthy ingredients in their snacks, consumers’ number one concern is sugar. Brands like Cadbury’s, Nestlé and Mr. Kipling are all relaunching some of their classic products with significantly reduced sugar contents while many emerging brands are promoting natural products that have zero added sugars.


Yet simply reducing the sugar content is not enough: consumers also want to know that the sugar in their snack is not just being replaced by other, more artificial ingredients. They want a “clean label” showing ingredients they are familiar with, which is why many brands are looking to


sweeteners that have plant-based or healthy associations. Nestlé, for example, has launched a chocolate that is made from the cacao fruit and contains prebiotic sweeteners that both replace refined sugar and have nutritional benefits.


Upping the nutrition in snacks

Outside of sweeteners, plant-based ingredients continue to be a strong motivation behind consumer snack choice. The innovation in this sector is focused on how to make it as convenient as possible for people to have a more plant-based diet. As always in the snacking sector, ease of consumption is primordial, and brands are responding by incorporating more vegetables into their products. Crisps made from chickpeas, lentils and beans are growing in popularity, with Sweden’s biggest crisp brands OLW and Estrella both championing the high protein content of their legume-based crisps.


Innovation in snacking also comes in the form of products containing “nootropics”: compounds or supplements that improve brain function. Aurora de Monclin of Healthy Marketing Team stated that over two thirds of adults use snacking as a way to reconnect with themselves and reduce stress and millennials in particular are interested in snacks that offer them a mental boost and more energy. UK brand nooro is disrupting the snack industry with their mission to promote the cognitive benefits of CBD and have created CBD snack bars that claim to help consumers align their minds and perform at their best. In addition, with consumer awareness of the importance of gut health growing, many brands are also incorporating pre- and probiotics into their snacks as a way to help consumers achieve greater digestive health. Qwrkee and beRaw, for example, are two brands that claim to incorporate billions of live bacteria into their all-natural products. When it comes to packing nutritional value into snacks, it seems like the sky’s the limit.



The “Taste first, think second” trend demonstrates how consumers are demanding more and more from their snack products. Gone are the days when a snack was just something convenient and tasty; now these products must deliver both a good dose of nutrition and an indulgent experience, as well as representing a trustworthy brand that consumers feel connected to. The innovation as a result of the industry’s growth is fascinating and the snack sector continues to give us a unique glimpse into the evolution of consumer lifestyles across Europe. 


As expert field marketing agencies across Europe our EFMP Partners are on the ground working to launch and merchandise snacking products across Europe. If you are looking to launch a new brand or enter the European market, get in touch with our team today to discuss how we can help you.  


© 2023 European Field Marketing Partners Coöperatief U.A.
VAT number: NL860658223B01