Top Spots to Shop Snacks for On-the-Go

What drives snack purchases? Who’s buying them and where? Prime Planet delves into where America’s on-the-go consumers are driven to go when it’s time for a snack fix or when that uncontrollable snacking impulse strikes and they simply must have it “right now.” And while we’re at it, what are some of the top snacks these days?

Top spots to shop snacks on-the-go

Did you know that the snacks for on-the-go sub-category of sales represent at least $1.1 billion in annual business and has experienced double-digit annual growth over the past several years? Whether salty and crunchy or fresh and organic, balanced snacks are clearly a mainstay for many Americans.

Research shows that older Millennials and Gen Xers are the “snackiest” generations with 74.4% and 72.2%, respectively, snacking at least once per day, according to a consumer survey completed by Progressive Grocer along with sister company EIQ Research Solutions. In addition, those generations are the most likely to replace a meal with a snack. Something our moms would never let us do, but hey, we’re all grown up now.


Another tidbit is that 32% of U.S. homes buy on-the-go produce snacks, a trend that applies not only to families but also to younger generations and multicultural households.

Quick and Convenient

Before convenience stores were popularized by the likes of 7-11 and Circle K, the go-to places for snacks were “mom-and-pop” corner stores, typically owned by a local individual or family (not a corporation or chain) and catering mostly to pedestrians. Today, it’s nice to know the concept is still alive and well – and growing in many downtown areas. The Business Research Company projects that the mom-and-pop stores market segment will gain $219.4 billion of global annual sales by 2025.


One reason? “The term ‘mom and pop’ has become kind of a catch-all category that includes many different store types than the original neighborhood corner/convenience stores for which the name was first coined,” according to CSDecision.com, an online site covering the convenience store industry. Today, some of these walk-in, single-location stores are upscale urban markets that serve office workers and city slickers, while others are in rural, small-town downtowns, where they often serve as a lifeline for a local community. Most are still owned by entrepreneurs or families, aren’t franchises, and lack the buying “muscle” of larger corporate ventures.


“Mom-And-Pop Stores Are Offering More ‘Grab and Go’ Snacks.”


But these quick-stop stores have other stellar pluses. Their owners and employees are deeply entrenched in the community. Translation? They call customers by name and can provide highly personalized service. And that inspires strong brand loyalty. Another plus is that while they still sell the typical range of crunchy snacks, peanuts, and energy bars, many offer the absolute freshest of farm-to-table food or snacks. After all, healthier foods, yes, even better-for-you balanced snacks, are in super high demand these days. Customers can pop in to grab an apple or berries, grown by local farms, and, at times, the product is even harvested the same day. In addition, they can offer freshly baked cookies or muffins, again perhaps delivered each morning by a local baker whom they know. But never fear, because increasingly, the mom-and-pop

convenience stores are also offering more “grab and go” snacks. It seems that will never change.


Fill ‘Er Up

When it’s time to fill ‘er up, customers increasingly not only head out to pump gas but also pop into the local station to buy water, a soda, or comfort snacks. It’s estimated that there are almost 11,000 stand-alone gas stations in the U.S. In addition, the NACS 2018 Consumer Survey (National Association of Convenience Stores) says about 79% of 155,000 convenience stores also sell gas.


Convenience store visits have doubled to 47% since the pandemic began.”


In fact, these robust gas station convenience marts (think RaceTrac or Wawa) are fast becoming destinations in their own right. A GasBuddy 2019 C-Store Beverage Study found that 51% of those surveyed said they purchase a beverage at a gas station convenience store and 20% do so daily. People also head to gas convenience stores’ snack aisles to grab kettle-cooked, baked and flavored potato chips; pretzels; beef jerky; nuts, snack bars, packaged cakes, cookies, and crackers; candy, gum, and other treats.


Not to say these venues aren’t looking for new and different products to catch their customer’s eye, because stats also show that more and more consumers are looking for something new and different, like a bag of fried green plantain chips. If it looks crunchy and salty and delicious, “let’s try these!”


Other developing trends? Increasingly, people are even saying, “forget the gas.” Instead, they’re making a trip to a convenience mart for the food alone – perhaps quick groceries, name-brand fast foods, or even designer coffees. Grab-and-go options are on the rise, such as Wawa’s “warm” choices of stuffed pretzels, buffalo chicken bites, home-style chicken bites, mozzarella sticks, Jalapeno bites, or hash browns.


It’s no surprise that customers with increasingly busy lives are navigating the impact of COVID-19 and looking for ways to connect with products and services with maximum ease and speed. They’re also consolidating trips whenever possible and want more out of every retail interaction. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, about 20% of convenience store visits were classified by shoppers as “a quick trip to pick something up.” But research shows that the number has more than doubled to 47% nearly two years after the pandemic began.


Another shifting trend with positive snack industry benefits is that while morning-time convenience store trips have fallen to 14% from 18% pre-COVID, in contrast, afternoon and evening trips have grown to 17% from just under 14%. What’s notable is that more than a third (36%) of afternoon and evening commuters are stopping in for snacks, meal stand-in, and “meal bridges.” Millennials and Gen Xers are the most likely to replace a meal with different healthy snacks to have on hand.

Last Stop to Shop

Whether you’re about to board a plane for a grueling 17-hour flight across the globe or a puddle jumper for a 45-minute flight, you suddenly realize that you may have no food service or minimal service onboard, at best. So, what’s a person to do? The answer is “grab and go” at an airport store, news shop, or pizza counter. 


Travel and Leisure magazine published one story about the “Top 10 Most Popular Items People Buy at Airports,” as reported by Hudson News, a major airport concessionaire. Bottled water, sodas, other drinks, and the Wall Street Journal were on that list – but the star comfort snack, and in fact the only snack-type food on that list, was king-sized M&M’s Peanut chocolate candy.


“Americans eat 100 acres of pizza a day, about 350 slices per second.”


But airport purchases taken on airplanes aren’t confined to candy, chips, energy bars, and other packaged snacks for on-the-go. Throughout the U.S. in all venues, pizza is a snack purchased on-the-go – accounting for more than 10% of all food service sales. In fact, collectively, Americans eat 100 acres of pizza a day, or about 350 slices per second. So not surprisingly, airline customers are increasingly carrying a pizza box onboard, so that before or after takeoff, they can enjoy a slice or two.


Airport terminals aren’t the only spot to purchase snacks on-the-go. Often, travelers check into a hotel or resort but haven’t had time for a meal, and are too tired to go out. They want to hunker down with an on-demand movie or need to do work before a morning business meeting. Increasingly, after being handed their room key at the front desk, guests buy a quick snack or drink to take to their room.


In addition, at amusement parks or other big entertainment venues, visitors often can’t wait to buy a t-shirt or other souvenir, but also need something to nosh on before meandering the attractions. Among Total Orlando’s anecdotal list of Top 10 theme park snacks? Visitors might savor the apple fries at LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Dippin’ Dots, or freeze-dried pellets of creamy ice cream at SeaWorld. 


Other top picks include those popular funnel cakes, as well as churros and tacos. One iconic theme park treat that’s highly popular at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom is the Mickey Premium Bar, a “mouse head” design with rich chocolate-covered ice cream.


Take Me Out to the …

When it’s time to head out for the “ole ball game,” a thrilling stock car race, or myriad other sports events, fans love chowing down on their favorite comfort snack while watching the sports action. Some “eats” are downright iconic, such as the hot dog, which was a hit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, or yummy soft pretzels, popularized in Philadelphia baseball circles in the early 20th century. 


Peanuts are perhaps the most classic of sporting snacks for on-the-go, and nachos began appearing in ballpark concessions in the 1970s. Sunflower seeds – which baseball players have used to replace tobacco – are also popular, along with cotton candy, ice cream, and popcorn. In fact, at one recent Major League Baseball All-Star Game, fans chowed down on more than a million pounds of popcorn. An empty popcorn bucket also makes a handy mitt for catching a foul ball!


How fans get their “eats” is changing. No matter what they eat, a FanFood survey pre-pandemic revealed that nearly 74% of fans desire a mobile ordering app at sports events if offered.

Another Oracle study about the fan experience showed that 45% of fans don’t desire to wait in line for food and drink at a sports venue.


“‘74% of fans desire a mobile food ordering app at sports events.”


While concessionaires have added state-of-the-art culinary options at stadiums and arenas, mobile ordering and delivery are also soaring in popularity. If mobile ordering was a nicety pre-pandemic, now it’s almost a necessity.


A Bright & Crunchy Future

Over the past few years, balanced snack products have steadily worked their way into the food choices that consumers make on a daily basis. In addition, the COVID-19 era has created more snacking opportunities as stressed-out consumers have been forced to change work schedules, avoid certain day-to-day activities, and socialize less. So, there is a strong desire for stressed-out consumers to “reward” themselves with treats they love.


What are tops for a snack? In Progressive Grocer/EIQ Research, chips were the number one snack for men, younger Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers, cheese was tops for mature travelers, but the fruit has become the number one comfort snack food for women and older millennials. While the salty snack category is still the heavyweight, the snackable fruits and vegetable category experienced $16.3 billion in sales during one recent year, according to Nielsen.


The business of snack production and snack wholesale and retail snack sales has a bright future, we believe. Snacks of all types can be purchased on-the-go at mom-and-pop stand-alone stores, convenience stores that sell gas, airport/hotel/entertainment venues, and sports venues. Mobile delivery options and enhanced speed in transactions can only add to the appeal and should help build repeat business for snack wholesalers and retailers alike.


One NACS White Paper based on a 2018 consumer survey showed the “time” appeal of buying at a convenience store. The average time it takes to purchase an in-store item at a convenience store is clocked as follows:


  • 35 seconds to walk from the car to the store
  • 71 seconds to select the site
  • 42 seconds to wait in line to pay
  • 21 seconds to pay
  • 44 seconds to return to the car


In total, that’s 3 minutes and 33 seconds, so the process is quick. But best of all, those balanced snack or beverage purchases are convenient to buy. NACS further reports that 93% of consumers have a convenience store within 10 minutes of their home. Plus, beverages or snacks purchased don’t last long as 83% of items purchased at a convenience store are gobbled down within an hour of sale.


“According to Nielsen, salty snacks are still the heavyweight category.”


So every time the munchies hit, consumers, go on the hunt – quickly. Fortunately, with increasing grab-and-go options and places that sell those, it’s an appetizing equation for those of us in the grocery delivery chain, and one that should bode well for our future sales.

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