How Snack Food Trends are Changing CPG Equipment Needs

Millennial’s snacking habits are the driving force for five food packaging trends.

By: Sean Riley, Senior Director, Media and Industry Communications, PMMI

Five consumer trends driven by convenience are dominating the snack food market and ultimately packaged snack food. Healthy snacks, single-serve, flavor variety, resealability and combination mini-meals are all pushing snacks to new heights as a market segment, according to Trends and Advances in Food Packaging and Processing, a recent report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

All five trends are largely driven by the growth of Millennials as a legitimate buying force, with nearly 75 million Millennials currently in the U.S. This demographic is the largest in the U.S. workforce at 53 million, slightly ahead of Generation X. By 2025, Millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce, and they’ve become an established factor influencing consumer trends overall.

The growth of healthy, portable snacks

Healthy food options are reaching the level where labeling them a fad no longer applies. Consistently emerging as the top consumer request, healthy choices are growing significantly, with the global healthy snack market projected to surpass $108 billion by 2027 at a 4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), according to Market Research Future. Often referred to as “better for you” snacks, the segment exploded in the last five years. By 2025 nut/seed and fruit snacks are projected to represent more than one-fourth of the entire bakery and snack market. From a production and packaging standpoint, this creates a need among consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies for entirely new production lines dedicated to healthy snacks.

Availability is the secondary driver of healthy snacks. With demand from Millennials increasing, convenience stores have expanded to include healthy options. Additionally, as single-serve healthy options grow, large retailers such as Wal-Mart are asking for smaller packages that allow them to meet demand and stack more on the store shelves. The packaged fruit snacks market alone is poised to grow by $2.54 billion during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of 9% during the forecast period, according to research from Technavio.

Equipment requirements for snacks on the go

Like the better-for-you trend, young consumer lifestyles are driving the single-serve movement. Millennials want reduced portion snacks for on-the-go consumption at lower calorie counts. These single-serve portions can be tricky to package, often containing combinations of meat, cheese, nuts, fruits, veggies and dips. While running somewhat counter to the single-serve trend at first glance, resealability continues to expand the possibilities of on-the-go snacking. Combination snacks, for example, can offer meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables in containers that can be closed and finished at a different time without spoilage. An added zipper or slider assures the buyer that the product maintains freshness for bagged snacks.

CPGs need flexible equipment that can deal with various packages and packaging formats to handle these requirements. The packaging implications include growth in flexible pouch filling machinery (especially form/fill/seal equipment); shelf-ready secondary packaging machinery for single-serve natural snacks, like fruit or flow wrappers for bars; and an expansion in rigid tray filling and sealing equipment for combo snacks.

The expansion in package sizes for these combination and resealable snacks also creates more operational challenges for CPGs, who now face producing more SKUs than ever before. This explosion of SKUs is enhanced by the growing need to satisfy consumers’ unique snacking preferences. CPGs are forced to find ways to package an ever-changing number of sizes and flavors, particularly in the savory snack market where tastes span the widest.

The value of automation

These consumer trends point to equipment investment as a necessity for CPGs in the next two to three years. Machinery needs to offer flexibility, increased speeds, and some level of modularity to allow baking and snack purveyors the opportunity to run different products with little downtime.

This need for greater flexibility will inevitably lead to increased automation use in the snack sector. PMMI’s Automation Timeline: The Drive Toward 4.0 Connectivity in Packaging and Processing indicates that machine automation will rise from 65% to 95% over the next 10 years. In the same period, process optimization will increase from 30% to 90% and the practice of calculating overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)—a potential motivator for manufacturers to implement automated solutions—from 44% to 84%. In addition to calculating OEE, snack brands are adopting automated packaging solutions throughout their lines to achieve greater flexibility, labor utilization and sanitation.

Find solutions at PACK EXPO East

No other east coast event will offer a wider range of state-of-the-art packaging and processing solutions than PACK EXPO East, March 21-23, 2022 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. With 400 exhibitors, it is conveniently located just a drive or train-trip away for most of the east coast, and provides a rewarding opportunity for CPG and life sciences professionals to explore packaging and processing technology, connect with suppliers and find the solutions needed to compete in a changing marketplace. To register or learn more, visit For information about the PACK Ready Health and Safety plan, visit

About the Author

Sean Riley is the Senior Director, Media and Industry Communications at PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

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