British consumers are not only Europe's biggest snackers, but their snacking habits also bear most resemblance to their US counterparts, according to research out today.

The UK-based research group Datamonitor said today that by 2008, snacking will account for 44% of all eating occasions, and the British will spend a total of £10.3bn, representing an increase of over 20% on 2003. 

"It is now well recognized that consumers are snacking more. However, British snackers are becoming increasingly difficult to please as their demand for healthy and 'guilt free indulgence' snacks increases" said Daniel Bone, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor, and author of the report.

"The key to success lies in recognizing and capitalizing on these core trends which are having the most profound affect on consumer preferences and buying behaviour".

UK consumers consumed £143 worth of snacks per person per year and this is set to increase to almost £158 by 2008.  This compares to £141.5 in the US, while the average spend per person in Europe stands at £109.

Snacking markets in the UK continue to grow rapidly, driven by the increasing acceptability and need to snack throughout the day. The size of the snack market in the UK is expected to near £10.3bn by 2008, rising from £8.5bn in 2003, representing an increase of over 20%.

"UK manufactures and retailers have been relatively effective in creating reasons for consumers to snack more. Even simple innovations such as placing chocolate or cereals into bagged snack format like Kellogg's have done with Special K means that volumes of impulse snack consumption continue to increase", adds Bone.

Datamonitor's research reveals that the occasion rather than the consumer's demographic profile has a greater influence on the choice of snacks.  Marketers, therefore, need to place greater emphasis on positioning products against defined occasions.

"With consumers exhibiting divergent behaviours depending on the snacking occasion, it becomes all the more important to position products by occasion, and, where possible, by time of day. However, despite claims in both the European and US trade press about marketers increasingly seeking to position products against more specific consumption occasions, many consumers spoken to as part of the Datamonitor's research struggled to identify brands they perceived as adopting such an approach", said Bone.

Performance-boost and health-focussed products should target morning and afternoon occasions as the need for indulgence increases through the day.  As the evening draws in, consumers seek emotional comfort from more indulgent snacks and drinks.

"Evening is the peak time for indulgence", said Bone. "It is when the household chores are typically finished, the kids are in bed and the parents typically relax. Communicating occasion specificity in promotions is therefore vital".