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A snack is a meal

June 29, 2015

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Greek yogurt has helped fuel the trend toward snacks as meals.

When I was growing up in Michigan, we regularly ate at the Bill Knapp’s chain. It featured home-style dishes like fried chicken, scalloped potatoes and chocolate cake, and its signs featured the slogan, “A snack or a meal.”

Consumers aren’t making that choice any more. Increasingly, snacks are becoming meals, according to marketing expert Susan Schwallie of the NDP group. But not sugary snacks.

Americans are turning to “better for you” foods, and not just in between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Schwallie recently told an audience at Camp Bacon in Dexter, Mich., that people are considering snacks as components in putting meals together.

Here are some of her observations.

Yogurt leads the way.

Yogurt took a while to catch on in the United States, versus European countries. But that’s changed, especially with the popularity of Greek yogurt, a thicker, more-substantial version of the yogurts traditionally available in the U.S.

Now, yogurt is a $7.35 billion business in U.S. groceries and food shops. In 2000, Americans ate about 12 half-pints of yogurt apiece. In 2014, they ate 23, according to Statista.

Bars are big.

Energy bars are another food phenomenon. Statista reports that sales of nutrition and energy bars have grown from $565 million in 2000 to $1.27 billion in 2014.

It’s common for people to craft breakfast and lunches from a yogurt, an energy bar and perhaps a piece of fruit. These meals are also more portable, and can be eaten on the run or while traveling.

In fact, Schwallie says these combinations have eaten into lunch traffic at a number of restaurant chains.

Doctoring it up.

But for some consumers, simply ripping into a Cliff Bar isn’t enough for their meal. She says they’re adding ingredients in order to get more involved in their meals. They’re willing to take a few minutes and make a packet of oatmeal for breakfast, then top it with nuts or berries.

Gluten free is softening.

The trend away from wheat, which marked healthy eating for the past few years, is slowing down, Schwallie says. Certainly, people with wheat allergies will continue to look for gluten-free products, but other diners have found that they aren’t necessary to a healthy lifestyle.

For story ideas, check out the energy bar section of your local store and talk to the people who buy them. How many types of yogurt does your local grocery sell? Are there any local producers of granola bars or other healthy snacks at your local farmers’ markets?


  • Micheline Maynard

    Micheline is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post concentrating on business and culture. She has written about flooding in Detroit, tainted water in Benton Harbor, nationwide shortages of restaurant staff, and vaccine hesitancy.

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