By: Sophia Cygnarowicz, Digital Strategist

In today’s food culture, snacks are all the rage. Mintel found that 94 percent of Americans are snacking at least once a day, so it’s no wonder snacking is the greatest growth driver of today’s Consumer Packaged Goods industry. Just ask the girl in this viral video. Consumer’s food choices and mealtime habits are shifting across all age ranges. But what about the motivations behind snacking? Not so much.

Some marketers get caught with their hands in the cookie jar when assuming that consumers – especially the college-aged demographic – mainly snack for convenience and flexibility. As the three-meals-a-day mindset fades, is it truly because 18- to 24-year-olds don’t have the time to wine and dine? As a YAYA consumer myself, I know this isn’t always the case.

Growing up, I lived in the type of household that sat around the kitchen table for family dinners every night of the week. I followed the classic three meal structure and valued the fresh-from-the-oven dinners my parents prepared. Now, even as an overexerted college student, I continue to value a traditional sit-down meal. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll definitely indulge in two packs of fruit snacks to tide me over between meals. Despite this need to temporarily satisfy my hunger, I still favor following structured meal times. Is this true for all 18- to 24-year-old consumers? According to research conducted in the 2018 State of the YAYA report, this seems to be the case.

At MOJO Ad, we study the 18- to 24-year-old market, which we call the Youth and Young Adult (YAYA©) market. This unique life stage commands $82.4 billion in buying power. As the YAYA population is currently caught between millennials and Gen Z, it’s crucial for advertisers and marketers to understand us in order to target us.

Here are key takeaways that are sure to satisfy marketers’ hunger (How can you avoid food puns when writing a blog post about food?!):

  1. We aren’t on that #HealthKick as much as you think.

Particularly with millennials, food retailers have seen increasing popularity in snacks that are clean, organic and less processed, according to Forbes. These consumers like to buy foods that will enhance their quality of life. While some food trends focus on this responsibility of self, our research indicates the majority of YAYA snackers strongly disagreed when asked if they were currently on a diet or watching what they ate. In fact, only 14 to 19 percent definitely agree with avoiding cholesterol, salt, fat, carbs and sugar in the foods they eat. When it comes to food, we eat what we want.  

  1. We have different motivations for snacking.

According to our research, the YAYA market is snacking for emotional reasons. Sixty-seven percent of the YAYA market snacks when they are bored, and 59 percent eat more when stressed out. Mintel states that consumers 18- to 24-years old are most likely to agree the majority of snacks they consume are unplanned and that they snack more out of boredom than hunger. Compare this to millennials, who cite “to treat myself” as the top snacking motivation and “to relieve stress” as one of the lowest. So, when we’re pulling those all nighters, we make sure to stock up on our snacking essentials. Cue the Clif Bars and Goldfish!

  1. We prefer to eat structured meals and believe we have time to do so…

Despite their constant snacking, YAYA consumers would rather eat structured meals than snack throughout the day. In fact, 64 percent of the YAYA market believes they have enough time to have sit-down meals. Additionally, 61 percent of YAYA consumers would rather cook a meal for themselves than have more free time. Time to pull out those Betty Crocker recipe books.

  1. …but our intentions don’t match our actions.

Although we want to follow a three-meal-a-day mindset, we don’t always get what we want. Just because YAYA consumers prefer eating structured meals doesn’t mean they actually do it. Forty-two percent of YAYA consumers agree that snacking helps them get through the day, and 50 percent agree that they often snack instead of eat full meals. Let’s be honest, if we’re in a time crunch, we aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to snack.

At the end of the day, YAYA consumers are continuing to snack regardless of their more traditional meal values. What marketers need to realize is that YAYA consumers are snacking by default. They believe they have no other options. They feel bored and search for a way to cope. What does this mean for the future of snacking? I’ll guess we’ll just have to see how the cookie crumbles.

Learn more about YAYA consumers, MOJO Ad and the 2018 State of the YAYA webcast here.