Back To School: What College Students Seek In Snacking


Millennials SnackingFor candy and snack manufacturers, college students should be more than a subset of millennials. With an estimated $163 billion in discretionary income during 2015, the demographic is essential for brands wanting to make a good impression on early adopters and trendsetters, according to campus bookstore operator Barnes & Noble College.

The urgency of reaching them becomes apparent when combining spending power with the fact that 70 percent of students report eating multiple snacks a day.

Barnes & Noble, which operates on more than 700 campuses nationwide, finds the demographic’s behaviors to be rather bipolar. For instance, while 51 percent of students pick up a snack when bored, half of these shoppers also report buying when studying to aid concentration. Further, nearly 60 percent of the demographic snack at home or in the dorm, while slightly more than half snack on the go.

When it comes to grab-and-go, convenience ranks just as high as price in purchase decisions. Other factors sought in on-the-go items are quick consumption and single-serving packs. In addition, exactly half of these consumers say nutritional value is an important consideration.

Looking at nutrition and ingredient statements, students rank protein as the top consideration among all snacks, followed by natural options and low calories. The least important claim influencing college students was gluten-free, the bookstore operator reports.

Concerning healthy snacks, pre-packaged nutrition options, such as granola or protein bars, rank second behind fresh fruit as the go-to option, according to Barnes & Noble.

Motivations To Buy

Nearly 60 percent of students say that when no incentive to buy is offered they are most likely to buy a healthy snack, followed by salty items, candy and sweet products.

The most popular purchase motivators are special offers and discounts, social media posts and in-store sampling. In fact, 94 percent of students show some interest in a product promoted with free samples, while half of students find these promotions led to being “very or extremely interested,” according to Barnes & Noble’s survey.

With candy and sweet snacks seen as “treats” and largely bought on whims, it’s not surprising that about half of students are more like to purchase these products when on display in checkout areas. Conversely, salty snacks seem to be less impulse driven, as just 37 percent report a likeliness to buy from the sector when on display.

Chips Reign In Salty, Chocolate Leads CandySnacking

Similar to the overall market, chips dominate salty snack purchases among college students, with more than half seeking them out to satisfy cravings. Traditional potato chips lead the way, followed by organic and natural options and tortilla chips.

In fact, the top salty snack brands among college students are of the chip variety — Lays, Doritos and Pringles. However, Barnes & Noble notes Chex Mix ties Pringles for the third most popular brand, largely driven by female shoppers.

Rounding out the most popular salty snacks are bagged nuts and pretzels, which are purchased by 45 percent of college students,.

Not unlike the rest of the population, college students are drawn to chocolate as nearly 70 percent report buying in the segment when they purchase candy. These consumers’ preferences also fall in line with much of the larger market, with chewy and sour candy among the most popular sectors.

Interestingly though, gum rounds out the top four segments. Barnes & Noble finds that 64 percent of students prefer to chew gum compared with just 25 percent who choose mints. However, regardless of product format, mint flavors are preferred over fruit varieties by almost three-fourths of students surveyed.

Among other sweet snacks, cookies have the strongest level of willingness to buy, followed by brownies and donuts. Looking at brand preferences in this sector, Oreos are three times as popular as other option. However, Barnes & Noble reports the fragmented nature of sweet snacks makes it difficult to compare brands.

For example, while Oreo cookies were the most prevalent brand cited, its joined on the list by Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls and Hostess Mini-Muffins, which are cake-based items rather than a cookie product, according to Barnes & Noble. CST


Student Snacking Trends

While they represent a diverse demographic mix, college students are displaying three major tendencies in snacking, according to Lisa Shapiro, Barnes & Noble College director of café and convenience.

Customization: These consumers are seeking out ways to control portions, including when looking at spreads and snacks that are dipped. “We first saw this demand as one of the five exclusive retailers to launch Nutella & Go products in the U.S., and now with newer options such as Reese’s Spreads Snacksters,” Shapiro explains.

Function: Students are seeking snacks that offer good taste as well as health benefits, which can include products such as gummies with protein or vitamin C and snack mixes fortified with probiotics.

Evolution: Mini and snack-size candies have long been popular because of easy consumption and portion control, and Shapiro sees this trend expanding. “The next wave of sweet snacks evolved straight from minis,” she says. “We see interest in cookie and brownie crisps as well as candy thins.”