Finding Comfort in the Crunchy
How consumers are snacking with purpose
Chances are when the ThoughtMatter team isn’t talking about design or work worth doing, we’re talking about food. One of the most exciting questions of the day is, “What’s for lunch?”, and it’s fair to say this passion for food and drink is one of the things that drives our creativity and community spirit. Spanning cultures and generations, everyone brings something different to the table, pun intended, and when we were all sent to work from home, people’s habits quickly changed.
When it comes to food, what’s bad for you can be oh so good. It can lift your spirits, and in the pandemic, there was certainly a need for that. But there is something to be said for knowing what’s in your food, its effect on the environment, and from there feeling empowered to purchase exactly what you want to indulge in. At the end of the day, choice is key, and it’s time to put the consumer back into consumer-packaged goods.
In the CPG world there has been a recent wave of debate about the long-term likelihood of consumers continuing to buy from companies that swap in genetically modified, “nutritious” ingredients for less healthy ones like chemicals, additives, sugar and salt. But it’s not just as simple as using applesauce instead of oil. For instance, OptiSol 5300 is a seed and dairy-based egg replacement that is used to lower the fat content in cake. I can only speak for myself, but ingredients like this, while naturally derived, leave me scratching my head.
I grew up in a home that fully bought into the fat-is-evil fad of the 80s and 90s. We ate margarine, fake ice cream, low-fat packaged snacks like SnackWell’s, and avoided things like juice and bananas which were deemed “too fattening.” But, whenever I went to my grandma’s house, we had whole milk, actual butter, full sugar orange juice, Chips Ahoy cookies, cheese and a host of other things that would never cross the threshold of my family’s home. And you know what, my body always felt better for it. So, like many, when it comes to mystery ingredients with hard to pronounce names, I get a little suspicious, regardless of the intention and whether or not those ingredients come from natural sources.
On the sustainability side of things, it’s also too early to tell if the growing movement to buy green will have staying power. At ThoughtMatter, we believe that there’s more to sustainability than throwing buzzwords like “eco-friendly” and “carbon neutral” on your packaging. We believe sustainability starts from within. It isn’t just about the materials used, but rather finding the root of the problem. As designers we can’t just design our way into something being sustainable. We need to find the root of the problem first, and then design to meet and hopefully start to address that need.
All that said, it’s no surprise that when polled on their favorite packaged snacks of all time, and what they turned to during quarantine, our staff expressed a willingness to go the extra mile to snack more responsibly. While I wasn’t the only one mainlining Cheez-Its and other crunchy comforts, many members of the ThoughtMatter staff exercised their choice as consumers to seek out snacks that weren’t readily available, whether it be from independent brands and sellers, doctoring store bought foods with creative twists or tapping into the need to turn to something homemade. One person even got in with the bakers at Foodtown to get their prized babka before it sold out.
There’s no denying the nostalgia we all have for indulging in a time-tested treat, or the satisfaction of making more healthy choices. But ultimately, we want the freedom to choose between those options, and when those options are absent, we get upset. That’s the American tension: We want to have our snack cake and eat it too. We want companies to appear to have our best interest in mind, but not at the cost of eliminating choice. The perk of being a CPG is that they have the resources to offer an endless range of products from which consumers can buy whatever they want. And now is the time to listen and put those consumers first.
So, what’s for lunch?
Here’s some of the things our staff got nostalgic, satisfied, transported, delighted, gratified and even went a touch crazy snacking on before and during the pandemic…
WHITNEY: Lays All Dressed Potato Chips
JOHAN: Crinkle Cut Potato Chips
DEBRA: Devil Dogs
TOM: Haldiram’s Nut Cracker
BEN: Nuts for Nuts
SAM: Foodtown Babka
NICOLE: Kettle Unsalted Potato Chips
HUA: Fruit from CSA
KALINA: Lays BBQ Chips
SARAH: Little Lads Seasoned Popcorn
JESSIE: Nacho Cheese Doritos
DYLAN: Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie
MARTHA: Universal Yums International Snack Box Subscription
D’ANGELO: EatPastry Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
WEDNESDAY: Microwave Popcorn with Homemade Toppings
PHIL: Calbee BBQ Corn Sticks