Snacking is reshaping the way America eats, market researchers say. A significant number of consumers are moving away from traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to lighter options when hunger or the mood for munching strikes.
Actually, today, a snack can mean virtually any food or beverage, from an espresso and a pastry to a cheese plate with a mint chocolate latte. In light of this evolving trend, some operators are seeking to drive sales by encouraging consumers to indulge in snacks and specialty coffee in tandem.
Ninety-four percent of Americans snack at least once a day, according to a Mintel report last year, up from the 64 percent who just a year prior said they often snack. A full 50 percent say they snack two to three times a day.
In addition to replacing standard meals, consumers also snack to alleviate hunger, satisfy cravings and cope with boredom or stress. Moreover, 70 percent of consumers agreed that anything can be considered a snack these days, Mintel reports.
Millennials — consumers between the ages of 21 and 38 — are significantly more likely than older consumers to snack frequently; in fact, 24 percent of them do so four or more times per day, Mintel says. “Think of it — [millennials] are the most in debt generation to come out of college, and they aren’t able to afford to travel as much as their predecessors,” says Scott Svihula, owner of Hula Consulting, an Orlando, Fla.-based tea and coffee consultancy. “So they are having different cultural experiences through their food and beverage buys.”
Svihula sees an opportunity for operators to pair single-origin coffees and imaginative food items for snack happy millennials. “Not just a bag of chips or a cookie, but unique snacks that have unusual ingredients or ethnic snacks that fit the restaurateur’s menu could be a cultural experience in itself,” Svihula says.
Steadfast Coffee menus signature coffees and chef driven lighter fare in its two Nashville, Tenn., coffeehouse restaurants. Customers visit for impromptu beverage and snack occasions “in the morning, in the afternoon and at our happy hour when people may grab a beer or a cocktail and some light fare before dinner,” says Jamie Cunningham, co-founder and partner in Steadfast.
Daytime menu options range from sweet or savory polenta porridge to a braised barbecue chicken sandwich with kale slaw and crispy shallots. In addition, there are snacks and sides such as soft-cooked egg with housemade pickled vegetables, herb flavored popcorn and house baked brioche toast with butter and preserves. Evening snackers may opt for sweet and salty house prepared bar nuts, pimento cheese with pickles and PB&J — housemade chicken liver pâté, bread and jam.
Steadfast offers what the menu terms “augmented” coffees to wash those down or to sip as snacks in themselves. For example, the Espresso Flip is a riff on a brandy and egg cocktail of colonial times with vanilla milk and espresso instead of spirits. Matchless Coffee Soda is a carbonated, lightly sweetened cold brew served with a flamed orange peel. The Atlas is a mélange of hot drip coffee and demerara syrup with a float of whipped cream aromatized with the essential oils of orange peel.
“We have a cocktail bar here as well, so this is a way for us to bring the disciplines of bartending and coffee preparation together,” Cunningham says.
Similarly, coffee and snack options fit a variety of scenarios at Arbor, a Chicago restaurant with an extensive specialty coffee program.
The offerings include shareable boards and bowls that appeal to customers who seek flexible eating experiences. For example, the K.I.S.S. board on the morning menu sports two farm eggs, grilled seasonal vegetables and a meat choice. The Midwest Grains bowl combines Illinois wheat, farro, barley, grilled vegetables and egg with chili oil and sunflower sprouts.
“You can certainly get more of a traditional breakfast experience, but you can also get a cheese plate with an espresso pairing,” says Leonard Hollander, chef and co-owner of Arbor.
Snackers often share Arbor’s lunch grazing board, which offers Serrano ham, cheese, rhubarb jam, quick pickles, ramp chive pistou and egg. “People will come in with friends and have a grazing board at 10 a.m., then hang out and order lunch later,” says Hollander.
Accompaniments include espresso, drip, pour-over and “project” coffees that are essentially flavored lattes made with upscale ingredients and scratch culinary techniques. Examples are the tonka bean and Brittany caramel coffee, and the mint chocolate latte flavored with housemade ganache and herbs grown in Arbor’s garden.
With snacks now competing with traditional meals, operators have a growing opportunity to develop small bites and lighter fare for consumers to enjoy at will. Adding specialty coffee beverages to the promotional mix with snacks has the potential to create a double-barreled sales driver.