MANILA, Philippines–Cynthia is a Makati-based bank employee who, every now and then, craves potato chips in between meals.
Of late, however, she’s been eating less junk food and has migrated to healthier snacks, like sandwiches, to satisfy her cravings.
“Sandwiches that use whole wheat bread are healthier and just as satisfying,” she said, adding that a recent promotion and pay hike have given her more spending power to substitute tasty potato chips with more expensive gourmet sandwiches.
“I think of it as an investment in my personal health,” she said.
According to a new study by global research firm Nielsen, Cynthia (last name omitted on request) is part of a growing number of Filipinos who now prefer healthier snacks over more traditional “junk food.”
Local tastes on a food group once dominated by junk food are evolving.
Filipinos still love to spend on delicious snack treats in between meals but as the economy grows—and the ranks of middle class citizens with more spending power increase—people are starting to move away from junk food and demanding healthier alternatives.
Findings released recently by Nielsen noted that snack sales in the Philippines were rising in step with the country’s growing consumer base.
According to the Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking, there are varying and diverse reasons why consumers snack.
Bread and sandwiches
Locally, 74 percent of Filipinos view “snacking” primarily as source of nutrition.
This contrasts with Indonesians, Malaysians, Singaporeans and Vietnamese who rank enjoyment as the foremost reason for snacking. In Thailand, 79 percent of consumers snack to satisfy a craving.
The survey was conducted among 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries to identify which snacks are most popular around the world and which health, taste and texture attributes are most important in the selection criteria.
Filipinos surveyed said that in the last 30 days, they ate a wide variety of snacks, but the largest group of 31 percent preferred bread and sandwiches above other snack choices.
This was followed by 20 percent of respondents who preferred to snack on fruits, and 12 percent who preferred to snack on chocolate bars.
Fiber most important
“While the mindset of Filipino consumers toward snacking is focused on health with preference towards fresh snacks, which offer health and nutrition benefits, they’re also looking for an occasional treat,” Nielsen Philippine managing director Stuart Jamieson said in a statement.
The study revealed that, consistent with their demand for nutrition, more Filipinos nowadays are looking for beneficial ingredients in their snacks.
In particular, 63 percent of respondents rate fiber as the most important attribute in the snacks they eat.
Many also care about what snack items do not contain, just as much as they care about what they do. Fifty-six percent of Filipinos said they preferred snacks with all natural ingredients, while 54 percent said they preferred those with natural flavors.
Southeast Asian trend
This is part of a wider Southeast Asian trend, with Indonesians (56 percent), Malaysians (49 percent) and Thais (45 percent) saying the absence of artificial colors is the most important health attribute of the snacks they consume.
Sixty percent of Vietnamese consumers prioritize all natural ingredients while low salt and no artificial colors top the list for 34 percent of Singaporean consumers.
The Nielsen survey also showed that Filipino consumers tend to have a planned approach to their snack consumption.
Filipinos, in general, buy snacks in the store aisles and plan their purchases before they get to the store, as well as keep some snacks in a stash.
But Filipino consumers also exhibit characteristics of “spontaneous snackers,” including trying new snacks, buying a variety of snacks and making unplanned snack purchases.
Spontaneous snackers often eat snacks as soon as they buy them and tend to buy snacks at the check-out counter, Nielsen said.
“Consumers occupy two ends of the spectrum: purposeful at one end and impulsive on the other,” Jamieson.
$374 billion on snacks
According to Nielsen, global consumers spent $374 billion on snack foods annually between 2013 and 2014, a year-over-year increase of 2 percent.
Europe and North America make up the majority of worldwide snack sales ($167 billion and $124 billion, respectively), but Southeast Asia’s developing nations are contributing significantly to the category’s growth at a rate of 3.6 percent year on year.
Spending is expected to rise as Southeast Asia welcomes almost 300 million new consumers in the next decade; rising income levels and a burgeoning middle class population will fuel growth in the coming years.