The snack industry profits from our cravings

Wang Yanlin
Despite being deemed unhealthy, the snacks food industry has seen robust growth, recording more than 2 trillion yuan in sales in 2021. It could top 3 trillion yuan this year.
Wang Yanlin

Despite my fondness for snacks, particularly chocolate, cookies, juice, and soda, I used to believe they were neither essential nor helpful to daily life.

Snacks are defined differently depending on the context, but the term usually refers to foods other than breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Since I coordinated a group purchase of snacks during the lockdown last month, I have a slightly altered attitude toward snacking. I've observed that it could provide many folks with a variety of psychological solace.

Some may believe that snacks are unhealthy because they include too much salt, sugar, and fat, as well as a number of additives that are difficult to identify, while individuals who can't resist snacks are considered gluttons.

The snack industry profits from our cravings

Snacks have evolved into something that can comfort tired souls.

In China, parents frequently inform their children that snacks are unhealthy: they promote tooth decay, make individuals short and overweight, and can induce a loss of appetite for "formal" dinners if consumed in excess. But even so, children enjoy sweets. No longer are snacks exclusively for youngsters, but also for adults. It has been attributed to "consumption upgrading."

According to a Ministry of Commerce report, Chinese people spent more than 2 trillion yuan (US$294 billion) on snacks in 2021, and industry proceeds may exceed 3 trillion yuan this year.

I used to wonder how the snacks industry could have such rapid growth: it only took a decade (2006-2016) to grow from 100 billion yuan to a trillion-dollar industry. My understanding was bolstered by the astounding popularity of enthusiastic livestreamers selling snacks online.

I believe I may have found an answer.

During the past month or so of the lockdown, people have craved not only rice, meat, and vegetables, but also cola, chips, and cakes.

Snacks have evolved into something that can comfort tired souls, reward brave hearts, and provide strength to endure loneliness and stress – all of which I learned from my lockdown purchasing experience.

I volunteered in the middle of April to be our residential community's group-buying leader for Lyfen products, a Shanghai-based snack vendor listed as a licensed provider of daily supply packages.

I was surprised that I spent nearly 500 yuan on snacks, and even more surprised that I regretted not buying more.

Snacks have the advantage of requiring no effort to prepare. Simply open the package and eat it. Snacking on potato chips, for example, is accompanied by the sounds of crunches and crackers. It gives the feeling that all the sadness will be buried by the cracking sound.

Snacks can also serve as a tool of social communication. There are many exchange boxes filled with snacks, and cola is undoubtedly one of the most popular gift products among them. I sent two bottles of cola to my neighbors who tested positive for COVID-19 in April, and they were overjoyed and said the drink helped them recover faster.

About 15 years ago, I interviewed an executive from Unilever, which makes the premium ice cream Magnum. He said that one day, Chinese people would not hesitate to spend money on ice cream just like they do on lunch or dinner. I must admit I was not convinced by him at that time.

I think that day is already here.

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