Public health advocates lament Americans’ poor eating habits, noting the obesity epidemic that has swept the nation. But the country’s favorite snack remains a healthful one: fresh fruit.
According to consumer research firm The NPD Group’s recent "Snacking in America" report, fresh fruit is not only the most frequently consumed snack in the country, it’s also one of the fastest-growing snacks in popularity.
The Port Washington, N.Y.-based firm reports that during the two-year period ending in March 2012, Americans on average ate fresh fruit as a snack on 10 more occasions than chocolate and on 25 more occasions as potato chips, the second and third most popular snack foods, respectively.
Snacks accounted for 20 percent of eating occasions during that period, according to NPD, compared with 28 percent for, 25 percent for lunch and 27 percent for dinner.
Although most snacking occurs during the evening, the number of snacks eaten at night has remained flat in recent years, as has the number of afternoon snacks. Morning snacking, by contrast, has increased by 22 percent since 2002, and surpassed afternoon snacks in 2010.
Fruit is the favorite snack among all age groups, NPD found, with people ages 65 and older eating the most of it, followed by children under 12. Teenagers ages 13 to 17 eat the least fruit, but they eat more of it as they get older.
NPD identified six reasons why people snack:
• Health and weight;
• Hunger satiety;
• Something convenient for when they’re on the go;
• As a habit or part of a routine;
• To satisfy a craving; and
• As a treat or reward when watching television, visiting friends or engaging in other social activities.
It said fresh fruit ranked first in all but the last of those need states.
“Taking the who, what, when and where of fresh fruit consumption into account, the point to be made is that fresh fruit is a top-of-mind snack with most consumers,” NPD food and beverage industry analyst Darren Seifer said in a press release, adding that innovations in packaging and marketing could encourage consumers to eat more fruit.
Restaurants are likely to see more fruit on menus in 2013, according to 1,800 chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association last year, who predicted that fruits and vegetables would more often be the default side dishes on kids’ menus. And at the end of 2012, the NRA predicted that sales by snack purveyors would increase by 4.3 percent in 2013.
According to Datassential, which tracks mentions of ingredients on menus at chain and independent restaurants across the country, the top five most popular fruits on menus are lemons, oranges, apples, pineapple and strawberries. The fastest-growing fruits are açaí, dried cranberries, pomegranate, cantaloupe and blueberry.
In addition, the spokesperson for the Florida Department of Citrus said the organization saw growing popularity of grapefruit. That is the newest flavor introduced by Pinkberry, which launched it last week, shortly after Baskin-Robbins added a fruit-flavored frozen yogurt to its menu. Berry Passionate, passion-fruit-flavored yogurt with a raspberry ribbon, is its flavor of the month in January.