By: Rachel Gignac | June 12, 2023

Study considers micro-evaluations inside the brain, such as mood, what others will think and healthy eating

A new study revealed that Reese’s, Lay’s and Hershey’s were among the top snacking brands based on psychological measurements of the top 50 snacks, taking into account consumer behavior, trajectory and emotional response while purchasing snacks. Reflected in the top brands, top performers included chocolate, chips and cookies, while bottom performers were meat snacks, mixed nuts and pretzels.

The study was performed by Alpha-Diver, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based market research firm that applies neuroscience to understand marketplace behavior and the Food Institute, a Pine Brook, New Jersey-based news source that provides insights on the food industry.

With food purchases at every location, micro-transactions happen inside consumers’ brains, such as questioning mood, who they will be snacking with, what others will think of the snack choice and interest level in healthy eating. The Snack 50 ranking took these decisions into account.

“It’s the industry’s first measure of the psychological drivers of real-world consumer behavior [as it relates to snacking],” said Hunter Thurman, president of Alpha-Diver.

Collectively, the list covered more than $50 billion in snacking sales last year, 12 categories and a neuroscience workup based on more than 100 psychological metrics. The average test-taking consumer was 45 years old, and the average household income was $50,000.

The top 10 snack brands are:

Nearly half of American consumers snack three times or more every day, a figure up 8% in the past two years, according to Circana Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, and reported by The Wall Street Journal, New York. Last year, U.S. snack sales soared to over $180 billion, up 11% from the previous year.

The report showed that retailers are catering to snackers with large-volume boxes of snacks at 24-36 per box. Cereal companies are selling Saturday morning favorites as single-serve pouches, combining Fruity Pebbles, say, with popcorn. Salty is tangoing with sweet, spicy butting in with savory.

Thurman described four mental lenses his company uses to help assess why and how people snack the way they do. The drivers are Rational (“this snack will be good for me”); Experiential (“I want to try this snack”); Tribal (“This is how we snack”); and Instinctual (“This snack speaks to me”). The top snack brands within these categories are:

  • Rational: Nutrigrain, SkinnyPOP, Snack Factory
  • Experiential: Cape Cod, Starburst, Sour Patch Kids
  • Tribal: Lay’s, Aldi, Great Value
  • Instinctual: Sour Patch, Jack Link’s, Slim Jim

The top three snacking brands with rising momentum were all private-label brands: Aplenty, Favorite Day and Happy Belly.

Thurman claimed that private-label brands suffer from a misperception that their quality is inferior and private-label purchases constitute economic and flavorful compromises. Instead, the market is proving the opposite true, and purchases are more emotional, he said.

“If these brands offer ‘safe choice’ equity for consumers, how do you argue with that?” Thurman said. “Instead, brands should be asking ‘what is the opportunity to innovate and capture new markets?’”

Here are more top brands, considering additional reasons for purchasing.

  • Price: Jack Link’s, Blue Diamond Almonds, Planters
  • Time: Aldi, Happy Belly, Aplenty
  • Social: Great Value, Popcorners, Favorite Day
  • Physical: APlenty, Snickers, Dot’s Pretzels
  • Emotional: Oreo, Kirkland, Airheads

“Context is king and queen; context matters,” Thurman said. “Think about yourself and your life, whether you’re at work, at home with friends and family, or on a weekend. You’re not a different person, but there are three different contexts, and what drives your decisions varies wildly. The same is true with snacks.”

Source: CSP