NPD Group

NPD Group

December 04, 2006 09:30 ET

Snacks Knock Lunch Out of the Top Three Meals of the Day: Canadian Eating Patterns Take a Major Shift

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Dec. 4, 2006) - Move over lunch and make room for snacks. According to the 2006 Eating Patterns in Canada (EPIC) report from The NPD Group, the most comprehensive survey on eating trends in Canada, the snack meal is now more important than lunch as a daily meal. Twenty-three per cent of all meals consumed are snacks compared to 22 per cent for lunch, and a snack is the most important meal of the day for children under 18 years old. This is just one of the many findings revealed in the 2006 edition of EPIC.

"In today's high pressure, fast paced world, snacking has become a necessity, not a luxury. This is precisely why we have seen an increase of 500 million snack meals being consumed since 2002," said Marion Chan, Director, Food and Beverage, NPD Group.

Consumer attitudes are challenging the traditional definitions of breakfast and lunch. At main meal times, snack foods have staked their claim as easy and nutritious foods that can do the job as well as a sandwich or a piece of toast. Per capita, snack food consumption is up six per cent since 2002. However, it generally takes more than one snack food to replace the meal items simply because of the size of the product and the consumer's desire for variety.

Other trends examined in EPIC 2006 include snacking times, identifying the needs of a Back End Boomer (40-50 years old) compared to a Front End Boomer (51-60 years old) and the differences in consumption behaviours between Empty Nesters and Households with Kids.

Snacking Time

Evening is the most popular time for snacking. Based on the EPIC report, 40 per cent of snacks are consumed in the evening compared to 24 per cent in the morning and 36 per cent in the afternoon.

"A lot of our snacking occurs in the evening while relaxing in front of the television. And although snacking is becoming an important substitute to traditional meals, it is still a pleasurable experience associated with a quiet treat at the end of the day," said Chan.

The Packaging Flash

Consumers are looking for a point of differentiation, which is often related to health or nutritional claims, when choosing one product over another. Common flashes found on food packages, such as "0 Trans Fats" or "No Sugar Added" are swaying consumers and giving them a justification to choose a particular snack food over another. According to EPIC, 55 per cent of consumers admitted that they frequently check labels to determine whether foods contain ingredients that they are trying to avoid. This represents an eight per cent increase since 2002.

Empty Nesters vs. Households with Kids

Contrary to popular belief, consumers tend to be more willing to indulge as they age, particularly once the kids are out of the house and the need to set a good example fades.

Empty Nesters make choices about food without guilt or conscience. With the absence of children, their senses guide their meal choices with 40 per cent agreeing that the most important things about food are that it looks good, smells good and tastes good. Having the time to enjoy, and the ability to indulge without having to worry about providing proper nutrition for the children, impacts what they eat and how they prepare their food.

Empty Nesters are also eating more meals outside of the home. Leaving the meal process to professionals lets them indulge in a fast, delicious meal, without hassle. For example, 30 per cent of the time, Empty Nesters eat breakfast away from home because they don't want to cook or they choose to eat out.

They are also opting for more no-cook or no-prep options. For example, ready-to-eat cereal is being slowly replaced by a yogurt and a snack bar, toast by a bagel, and beverages such as tea and coffee are moving out of the home altogether.

The snack meal may have taken over lunch, but the single biggest change among the Empty Nesters is the transition of the big meal of the day to lunch. They spend more time preparing lunch, eating more foods one might associate with dinner, and are moving to a greater number of dishes included in the meal. As a matter of fact, 36 per cent of all in-home lunch meals include three or more dishes per meal.

Empty Nesters are also eating more snack foods with the dinner meal. Eating snack foods with the dinner meal is the only time Empty Nesters "out snack" households with kids. Empty Nesters will eat snack foods with dinner approximately 27 times per year compared to households with kids at only 22 times per year.

Adults with kids are generally less concerned with their own nutrition than adults without kids, as the former are too preoccupied looking after the needs of their children.

Nevertheless, 32 per cent of households with kids responded that nutrition was extremely important in the evening meal preparation, while only 11 per cent responded that cost was the most important factor.

Parents are also looking for a compromise between food for their kids and food for themselves. Traditional kid-favourite foods, such as macaroni and cheese and french fries, are among the fastest declining foods in a household with kids. These foods are being replaced by yogurt, snack bars and burgers, which are amenable to both the kids and the parents.

"Parents are moving away from the idea of having foods just for kids or foods particular to their tastes - that's where the compromise comes in," adds Chan. "Today, consumers want products or brands that will satisfy everyone in the household."

About EPIC

Eating Patterns in Canada 2006 is the most definitive source on Canadians' eating and drinking habits.

Food manufacturers use EPIC to help understand the long-term trends and insights of the food industry, allowing them to position their companies proactively and advise their consumers on new product ideas and manufacturing plans. Foodservice organizations use EPIC to help meet the latest consumer demands when looking to attract new audiences, increase revenue or even to choose the hottest menu items.

Further information about EPIC 2006 is available at

About The NPD Group, Inc.

The NPD Group is the leading provider of reliable and comprehensive consumer and retail information for a wide range of industries. Today, more than 1,600 manufacturers, retailers, and service companies rely on NPD to help them drive critical business decisions at the global, national, and local market levels. NPD helps our clients to identify new business opportunities and guide product development, marketing, sales, merchandising, and other functions. Information is available for the following industry sectors: automotive, beauty, consumer technology, commercial technology, entertainment, fashion, food and beverage, foodservice, home, software, sports, toys, and wireless. For more information, visit .

Eating Patterns in Canada Methodology

Eating Patterns in Canada is based on three different diary services maintained by NPD Group Canada. The first, National Eating Trends (NET), is the only continuous consumption study and the only information source that examines the entire food and beverage sourcing, preparation and consumption experience. NET captures all in-home, carried-from-home and away-from-home meal occasions. The NET annual sample consists of 1,300 households reflective of the Canadian population. Each week a group of 25 households begin recording all the foods and beverages consumed by all members of their household. Each household maintains a daily "eating diary" for one week.

The second part of NET is the National Eating Trends Nutrition Survey. This is completed by the same households that completed the NET diaries. The nutrition survey is completed at a later date, so as not to bias the NET results. This survey adds an attitudinal component to the NET database and puts the NET data into a more meaningful context by shedding light on the attitudinal drivers behind consumption behaviour. The households are asked questions about their concerns relating to topics such as nutrition, health and exercise and who is responsible for preparing meals.

The second diary service is CREST (Consumer Report on Eating Share Trends). CREST collects information from a representative sample of households that maintain a diary of their daily eating habits, but only for those foods and beverages purchased at a commercial restaurant. The sample for CREST is 4,000 households per quarter. The 'homemaker' is instructed to record all restaurants visited and all foods and beverages purchased at commercial eating establishments by all household members during a two-week period each quarter.

The third diary service is SnackTrack. SnackTrack monitors the consumption and sourcing of snack foods by individuals. It captures details about each snacking occasion, such as where the snack was consumed, how much was eaten, where it was eaten, at what channel the snack was purchased and more. The sample consists of 3,000 individuals on an annual basis. Each panelist fills out the diary for a one-week period and the diary is sent back to NPD at the end of the week. New panelists start the diary every day to ensure there are no gaps in data collection. SnackTrack data is collected 12 months, 365 days a year.

Other sources:

The Canadian Economic Observer is published by Statistics Canada on a monthly basis. This document provides economic indicators that are useful in understanding the "state of the nation." Economic factors play a big role in influencing Canadian consumption behaviour.

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