Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG (Getty Images)

Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable mental state of holding contradictory beliefs or ideas. In no area is this more apparent, truly, than the snack aisle. Faced with bag after crinkly bag of flavor-blasted this and flaming-hot that and claims of high protein, all-natural, low-salt, etc., one can be forgiven for having an existential crisis that leads to being escorted out of the 7-Eleven, again.

Market research company IRI actually dove into Americans’ complex feelings about snacks, and found a big contradiction. We say we want snacks that are guaranteed fresh (75 percent of respondents) and contain vitamins and minerals (58 percent of respondents), but that’s not what we’re actually choosing. The snack categories that saw growth last year weren’t natural cheeses and whole nuts, they were indulgences and treats like chocolate candy, ice cream, and cookies. Why is hard to say. Perhaps in uncertain geopolitical times, we’d rather just pacify ourselves with Klondike bars instead of chia pudding.

Some further findings from the 2018 State of the Snack report:

  • The average person eats upwards of 2.5 snacks per day.
  • Sales of pre-packaged “charcuterie for dummies” (this phrase is mine, clearly) cracker-and-cheese-and-meat combos were up 45 percent since last year.
  • Sales of pre-peeled hard-boiled egg snacks were up 6 percent.
  • 63 percent of people said the last snack they bought themselves was intended as a treat.
  • Seasonal flavors are huge. They accounted for 58 percent of growth in the candy sector, and the pumpkin-spice juggernaut continued to steamroll across the snack aisle with growth of 22 percent.
  • Bacon-flavored snacks are still bringing home the—yeah, they’re up 19 percent.

So what’s going to be big for snacks in 2018 and beyond? (Here’s hoping it’s not bacon-pumpkin-spice combos.) IRI predicts a boom in flavored “salty assorted snacks,” which include vegetable chips, multigrain snacks, pea snacks, rice and corn snacks, etc. So, if you’re a snack company, now’s the time to create that Hot & Spicy Barbecue-Ranch Pea Crisp you’ve been spitballing.

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