According to Technomic's 2010 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, 81 percent of people say they snack at least once a day. The noshing habit is riding a growth pattern: a fifth of people polled for the piece reported snacking more frequently than they did two years ago. Moreover, four of five people reported buying snacks largely from non-restaurant retail outlets – and roughly the same number expressed a desire to find them at more eateries.
The study culminated in an announcement from Technomic that the restaurant industry should take advantage of people's increasing affinity for snacks, which are appealing to customers for their convenience, price and smaller portion, and to operators for the extra sales opportunities, especially during off-hours.
Is there a way for pizzerias to take advantage of the snack trend? Yes. But operators have to tweak the way they think about what constitutes a snack, and how they present it.
Create an occasion
Would-be snacks at pizza places are often positioned as appetizers or even meals. That's fine, but it misses a whole slew of grab-'n'-go business.
Mintel Menu Insights research has found that the problem often lies in verbage. There are only two pizzerias out of the 350 chains Mintel analyzes that feature the word "snack" on its menu: Figaro's Pizza, which lists its breadsticks – traditionally a pizza accompaniment – as a "snack," and Nick and Willy's, which describes its 9-piece wings as a possible "snack alternative." But many will think of a 9-piece meal as just that, and not a grab-n-go, in-between-meals alternative.
What to do? First, operators can create viable on-the-go occasions where they make sense the most. Pizza kiosks and shops at malls, airports and universities are traditionally highly trafficked areas, prime for introducing bite-sized or individually packaged portable snacks. One need look no further than Auntie Anne's Pizza Knots, not terribly different than breadsticks covered in pepperoni, for inspiration.
In fact, breadsticks have potential to build off-hour sales – with proper positioning. Donatos introduced a package of self-contained breadsticks and sauce in supermarkets a couple of years ago, relying on the impulsive nature of grocery shoppers.
Tom Krouse, president of expansion brands for Donatos, said their sales are up 25 percent over last year.
"We introduced breadsticks and dipping sauces into grocery retail because they give customers the ability to snack at home at their convenience," Krouse said.
Another occasion that suits snacking is late-night dining, which may offer casual dining pizzerias some options to introduce snacking. Mintel Menu Insights' director Maria Caranfa says pizza restaurants can take advantage here by promoting late-night menus with a focus on snacks.
Technomic's snack report analysis supports her idea: 38 percent of its respondents reported snacking later at night. And the foods they prefer at this time are more indulgent, like frozen desserts, chips and cookies – all items that could find places on pizza menus.
Convenience is key
Speaking of sweets, one chain has learned just how important desserts can be for a pizzeria. The Loop Pizza Grill director Cathy Manson says one of the chain's biggest sellers between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. are milkshakes. The company will introduce two new flavors – Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and Mint Oreo – before the summer.
The Loop's leadership seems to put an increasing premium on convenient offerings. They're also introducing two new wraps that interpret their popular Mediterranean and Asian Chicken salads inside an herb tortilla. They're not snack size, but they certainly could be. Manson said they were introduced due to customer demand for more healthy items, the popularity of their salads, and most importantly, their portability.
In fact, the Technomic report cited "portability" as one of the most intriguing convenience factors of snacks. The "Menu Insights" section pintpointed McDonald's snack wraps, for example, as limited-service restaurant winners for their portability and relative inexpensiveness. Robert Ancill of The Next Idea said this should translate well with pizza-inspired sandwiches.
Whatever the industry cooks up, operators should remember Technomic's Darren Tristano and his explanation of snacks' allure: They allow people "to have more options and portion flexibility to meet their current needstates," he said.
*Flickr photo courtesy of mrjoro