Americans are eating fewer traditional meals around the table, and are opting instead for small but frequent bites throughout the day, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. In short, America is becoming a nation of snackers, and food companies are witnessing the change right on their financial statements.
General Mills' meals division, which includes brand such as Hamburger Helper, Macaroni Grill and Old El Paso, saw sales contract 4 percent in its last fiscal year. But the company's snack division's sales climbed 6 percent.
The scarcity of free time in many lives may be one reason for the shift. The demands of work, school and home life have made eating more of a detail to be crammed into a free moment on a schedule, rather than a focal point of the day. As even hallowed traditions such as the "family dinner" are giving way to other activities, what was once occasional indulgence—the snack—is now becoming standard practice.
Snacking on nuts and granola bars aren't the only options these days—there's an increasing appetite for "mini" meals.
So companies are making their meals more snackable. Oscar Mayer launched "portable protein packs'' including one with ham, cheese and almonds, ConAgra Foods offers small microwavable bowls of Chef Boyardee lasagna and ravioli, and Nestle sells "snack pizzas" and stuffed pretzels under the Lean Cuisine brand. Breakfast food companies such as Kellogg's have developed breakfast bars to prop up flagging sales, submitting to the will of busy people who are taking their morning bite on the way to work.
The practice of eating three meals a day dates back to ancient Greece, but the snack originated within the last hundred years, according to a historian quoted in the article. This may be the beginning of its era.