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America's Snack Obsession, Explained

Young Americans are replacing meals with snacks. There are a few reasons for that.

One of the most beautiful things about living in the modern era is our effortless access to snack food. Even stores that have no reason to sell food at all, like Best Buy or Bed Bath & Beyond (RIP), sell cheap, delicious snacks and sodas near the checkout to cater to our every whim. We don't have to hunt and gather scarce resources to feed ourselves like our distant ancestors did; instead, life is a nonstop parade of processed carbs. What a time to be alive! Yet while America has been a snack-crazed nation for decades, The Wall Street Journal reports that our cravings have recently ramped up to new heights.

Why America is hooked on snack foods

Overall snack sales in 2022 were up 11% over 2021. Why? In large part, it has to do with the same force that has dictated the arc of just about every business over the past three years: COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, Chips Ahoy and Oreo parent company Mondelez International saw its sales rise a whopping 30%, since we were all stuck inside for two years bored out of our minds, eating fun and nostalgic foods for the novelty of it. However, now that the world has opened back up, this snacking has proven to be a tough habit to break.


It also helps that the products we buy from these major snack producers aren't actually satiating. Chips, cookies, and various "bars" are designed to leave us wanting more—hence the famous Lay's slogan, "Betcha can't eat just one!" Hell, last week I fell asleep with a box of Oreos in my bed.

But it's not like people are only snacking when they're stuck at home, either. Per WSJ, both millennials and zoomers are snacking 10% more than their elders did due to their increasingly on-the-go lifestyle. I will often have a protein bar and a bag of Cheez-Its for lunch or dinner, and apparently I'm not alone.

"Millennials took something that had a negative connotation with older generations—parents would tell you 'don't snack and spoil the meal'—and turned snacks into the entire meal itself," Andrea Hernández, who studies food trends, told WSJ.


In turn, some food companies are adapting to the whole replace-a-meal-with-snacks approach by selling snacks that are more filling. Cheese maker Sargento, for example, has its Balanced Breaks snack packs, a single-serve selection of cheese, crackers, nuts, and raisins (yes, like adult Lunchables). WSJ also highlighted S'noods, a line of sauce-flavored pasta chips from the winner of Netflix's Snack vs. Chef competition show. 

My favorite snack right now is this Trader Joe's Sweet, Savory & Tart Trek Mix. With a nice balance of fat, protein, and carbs, I save both time and money by eating it in place of a meal. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era, but my affinity for snacking helps me realize I'm right where I belong.