Snacks and Candy Considered Accessible Luxuries According to New Acosta Group Study

Man shopping for snacks

Jacksonville, Fla. (May 18, 2023) – Economic uncertainty, self-checkout lanes, omnichannel shopping and natural and organic trends are impacting the way consumers are purchasing and consuming snacks and candy, according to a recent survey from Acosta Group, conducted with its proprietary Shopper Community. But one thing is clear – shoppers view snacks and candy as accessible luxuries in their daily lives.

“We wanted to learn more about the shopper path to purchase by understanding when and why shoppers are snacking, as well as where and what they’re buying on different occasions or shopping trips,” said Kathy Risch, SVP Consumer Insights and Trends, Acosta Group, and a speaker on shopping behavior impact on category sales at the upcoming Sweets and Snacks Expo 2023 in Chicago from May 22-25. “We discovered consumer shopping preferences and generational differences that inform how brands and retailers can best meet the needs of today’s consumers.”  

These categories represent big dollars, each seeing 12% year-over-year sales growth fueled by the increased pricing of inflation, according to Nielsen.  


“Without a doubt,” said Risch, “we like our snacks, whether enjoyed as comfort food, meal replacements or stress relievers.” 

When asked, 40% of shoppers say they’ve eaten a large bag of salty snacks in one sitting, with that percentage rising to 74% for Gen Z and 60% for Millennials. 

Shoppers are snacking throughout the day, with 43% saying they’re usually snacking at night, 32% often snacking as a meal, and 36% snacking mainly when bored (47% of Gen Z). Stress snacking is highest among Gen Z at 81%, with 68% of shoppers with kids saying that they snack when stressed. Snacks are perceived as a comfort food by 68% of shoppers. 

Millennials are big snackers with purchases of frozen snacks and sides, granola and cereal bars, protein and nutrition bars, and dried meat or jerky. This group is also snacking on-the-go, with 74% snacking at work and 63% snacking when traveling. Households with kids are also driving snack sales, with more of these families shopping weekly across multiple categories.

Salty snacks reign in the category with potato chips in the lead, and popcorn becoming the breakout inflation-proof, go-to snack of 2023. Taste is driving choice, followed by value and promotional pricing.


For candy purchasers, chocolate is preferred (82%) over non-chocolate, with 54% of shoppers saying they eat more candy than they should. Four in ten are eating candy at least once a day, with Millennials and higher income households eating more.  

Taste is the number one reason for selection, with high quality ingredients, good value and a favorite brand also noted. Candy bars are the favorite, with candy-coated chocolate in second. 

Citing high prices and health concerns, 30% of shoppers say they’re buying less candy than last year. Candy sales are also at risk due to the increased use of self-checkout, preferred by 76% of Gen Z and 73% of Millennial shoppers. More than 25% of all candy sales occur at checkout, with self-checkout reducing impulse candy conversion purchases by 50%, according to IMC Proprietary Retailer Research. 


When given a choice, shoppers today choose evenly between healthy snacks (49%) and “junk food” (51%), however, 61% of higher income households choose healthy.

Of total snack buyers,15% say it’s important for snacks to be natural or organic. Most of the shoppers interested in natural and organic are willing to pay more – especially Millennials – driven by a desire to eat healthier and help the environment, reducing the amount of chemicals and pesticides used. 


The competitive set for snacking has expanded beyond grocery and mass retailers to include small format, fast casual dining and online and mobile delivery options.

Shoppers are buying 28% of their snacks online, with one in three of those shoppers having a subscription service for automatic reorders. Leading online purchases are protein and nutrition bars, dried jerky and meat, granola and cereal bars, frozen snacks and sides, and non-chocolate candy. Shoppers, especially men, often make a special trip just for a snack, especially to C-stores and quick service restaurants, with 76% of C-store shoppers saying they snack daily.

Just 12% of candy buyers have recently purchased online, implying an untapped opportunity to grow sales and basket size by promoting candy items on impulse during online checkout. Drug and dollar stores are also popular for candy purchases.


“With this study, we’ve identified several standout opportunities to support continued growth for CPG brands in snack and candy,” said Darian Pickett, Chief Executive Officer, Sales Agency, Acosta Group. “At Acosta Group, we bring multiple capabilities to the table to provide a one-stop shop to drive customer purchase and loyalty, build integrated omnichannel plans and support brand innovation for category expansion.”

A few areas of opportunity:

  • Highlight health attributes that have broad appeal (calories, sugar, fat, carbs) and focus innovation efforts on attributes such as clean ingredients   
  • Explore organic line extensions as well as shelf placement alongside other organic items on the physical and digital shelf
  • Develop portable, resealable packaging to promote convenience for on-the-go consumption of snacks and candy for busy consumers and their families
  • Create promotional pricing strategies that encourage impulse buys, reassuring shoppers that it’s okay to treat themselves
  • Design an integrated shopping experience as more consumers purchase snacks and candy online and in-store across multiple formats

Acosta Group’s Candy Shopper Insights Study was conducted Feb. 10-13, 2023, with 1,779 primary household shoppers ages 18+, and its Snacks Shopper Insights Study was conducted from Feb. 23-March 1, 2023, with 1,706 primary household shoppers ages 18+, both groups part of the company’s proprietary Shopper Community. The Acosta Group Shopper Community is comprised of over 40,000 demographically diverse shoppers across the U.S. and is the company’s proprietary community for survey engagement.