In addition to eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most of us eat in between these meals, which are referred to as snacks. People usually snack at least once a day, and there are many reasons behind it. One of the most common scenarios is that people’s stomachs start to growl a few hours after their last meal. In addition, it can also be a dip in energy levels that can be solved by a small bite. Other times, some people just look forward to the taste of specific snack foods.
If you want to learn more about snacks in the United States, you’re in the right place. This post includes information about snacks, including the history of American snack foods, the most popular snacks in history, the top snacks today, the size of the U.S. snack industry, and lots of other interesting facts about snacks you need to know. Read on to find out more about these.
What is a Snack?
Based on definitions from dictionaries, a snack is a portion of food, usually smaller than a regular meal, and generally eaten between meals. Snacks can come in different forms, such as packaged and processed foods and items made at home using fresh ingredients. Traditionally, snacks were made from ingredients that are found at home. Most of the time, it includes leftovers, nuts, fruits, and cold cuts. Other popular snack items include cereals, veggies, and pasta.
Packaged snack foods became a significant business with the spread of convenience stores. These snack foods are designed to be portable, quick, and satisfying. They are also less perishable compared to other prepared foods. However, snacks also usually contain considerable sweeteners, preservatives, and specially-designed flavors.
History of American Snack Foods
Snacks play a more important role in today’s society than you might realize, as they are more than just little bites between meals. Throughout history, the content and frequency of meals have always been diverse. From ancient times, people ate leftovers and light foods between meals. Most of those foods were sweet and natural foods that needed little or no preparation, like fresh fruits.
However, when the 19th century came, the interest in snack foods in the United States changed. People transferred from natural foods to consuming prepared commercial snacks containing high sugar and salt. At present, these processed foods are referred to as snacks. With the snack food industry’s evolution, snacking options in the United States have changed greatly. 
Let’s look at the history of American snack foods and the things that drove changes in snacks through the years.
New foods and drinks were introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. These included hamburgers, hotdogs, waffle cones for ice cream, and cotton candy. A year later, the first licensed pizzeria in America was opened by Lombardi.
Oreo was first introduced in America in 1912 before becoming the world’s most iconic sandwich cookie we know today. During this decade. Pep-O-mint candies also appeared. In addition, Tasty Baking Company started to sell Tastykakes, an individually wrapped chocolate that transformed on-the-go snacking.
During the Jazz Age, legendary sweet snacks like Butterfinger, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Nestle Drumsticks, Mr. Goodbar, Oh Henry! and Mike and Ike were introduced on the market. In October 1920, 7-UP was introduced, and it originally contained lithium citrate, a mood-stabilizing drug enjoyed by fatigued consumers two weeks later when the stock market crashed.
During the Great Depression, Lay’s Potato Chips, Frito Corn Chips, Twinkies, Ritz Crackers, and Snickers were all introduced. Also, during this time, the Girl Scouts’ cookie fundraisers became so popular that they had to contract out the cookie production to commercial bakers.
The involvement of the United States in World War II had the biggest impact on the snacking industry and trends of the 1940s. Some popular and practical additions to the soldiers’ ration kits include M&Ms, Tootsie Rolls, and other heat-resistant chocolates. After the war, new products started to appear, like Almond Joys, Cheetos, Smarties, and Junior Mints.
1950s – 1970s
The economy of the United States started to thrive after World War II. Americans saw the rise of fast-food franchises that took over the world in a few decades. However, aside from pizza, nachos, tacos, and hamburgers, other snacks include Apple Jacks, Doritos, Pringles, Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, and Funyuns. Women started to enter the workforce in the 1970s. With this, more emphasis was put on pre-cooked foods packaged in oversized food jars. Other great snacks followed, such as Twix, Pop Rocks, instant ramen, and Reese’s Pieces.
1980s – 1990s
From the 1980s to the 1990s, many new snacks were introduced in the United States, such as Fruit Rollups, Airheads, Teddy Grahams, Bagel Bites, Handi-Snacks, Ranch Doritos, and more.
The 21st Century
Snackers enjoyed a wider selection of snack food items in the last 20 years. Gross-out candies became the fastest-growing candy market segment in the United States. In addition, many other snack makers entered the scene, including Smucker’s, Hershey’s, Frito-Lay, Cheerios, Quaker, and more.
Historically Popular Snacks
Today, the shelves of local grocery stores are filled with new-fangled taste sensations such as candy bars and potato chips. But there are also many snack foods we still consume today that have been around for many years. These treats may have been enjoyed by your great-grandparents during their childhood years. If you are curious about these, below are some of the historically popular snacks in the United States.
1. Cracker Jack
People in Chicago were the first to taste the sweet and salty combination of peanuts, popcorn, and molasses back in 1893, during the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1912, the company began adding tiny toys to every box. The boxes no longer have toys, but Cracker Jack is still good enough to eat without the bonus riddles or tattoo. Many people surely miss digging for the surprise.
Did you know that a cough syrup maker made the popular Jell-O that we know today? In 1895, a cough syrup maker named Pearl B. Wait adapted Peter Cooper’s patent to create the 1845 gelatin dessert. Wait’s wife coined the name Jell-O. In 1899, his business was sold to Orator F. Woodward from the Genesee Pure Food Company for $450. Little did he know that the sales of Jell-O would achieve the $250,000 mark in just three years.
Through the years, many flavors of Jell-O came and went. You can now find many Jell-O flavors, such as sugar-free, Jigglers, and more. But among these, strawberry is still the all-time favorite flavor.
Oreo is the most popular cookie sandwich snack. It is a delicious snack introduced in the spring of 1912 by the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco, and owned by Kraft. But before Oreo became popular, it was packaged as part of a trio, which included the Mother Goose, the Veronese, and the Oreo Biscuit. Later, it became clear that Oreo was the most loved among the three.
Over the last century, different versions of the Oreo were introduced. From a lemon-cream flavor in the 1920s to Double and Triple Stuff Oreos more recently. In 1921, Nabisco changed the name from Oreo Biscuit to Oreo Sandwich. In 1948, the name changed to Oreo Crème Sandwich. At present, it is marketed as the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie. No matter its style, whether it is in Mini Oreos, or Mint Oreos, it remains America’s favorite cookie.
4. Marshmallow Fluff
When it comes to marshmallow snacks, Massachusetts deserves the credit. In 1917, Archibald Query sold his homemade marshmallow cream door-to-door in Somerville, Massachusetts. However, wartime shortages ceased his small business. After the war, he moved on and sold his formula.
H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower bought the marshmallow cream formula for only $500. They started selling a gallon of it for $1 under the name Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff. The demand for it grew until the snack had to be jarred in a 10,000-square-foot factory in Brookline. At present, Marshmallow Fluff is still a family-owned business in Massachusetts.
The popular juice we know today as Kool-Aid started as a soft drink syrup offered through Edwin E. Perkins’ mail-order business in Nebraska. His father ran a general store in town, and that was where he encountered Jell-O for the first time. Inspired by that snack, he decided to concentrate his syrup into a powder and rename it Kool-Ade Soft Drink Mix. Each packet was sold for 10 cents each.
By 1950, Perkins was selling a million packets of Kool-Aid each day. In 1953, his project was sold to General Foods. Today, Kool-Aid is still the pride of Hastings, Nebraska. It is the official drink of the state.
Kraft first brought Velveeta to the market in 1928. It was marketed to always melt perfectly. It was a sauce that was meant to be served over toasted sandwiches of peanut butter and sweet pickle relish.
Before Velveeta was launched, Kraft spent some time researching the nutritional benefits of whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process. Velveeta was given the official seal of approval by the American Medical Association in 1931. When it was released, it became very popular in Germany. However, the plant in Lindenberg was not able to keep up. It was introduced as a spread with less fat and fewer calories in 1953. Over the years, Velveeta has been altered a bit, and new varieties of it were introduced.
Twinkies were invented by James Dewar when he was working as a Hostess baking manager at the plant in Chicago. Based on Hostess, he was looking to make better use of shortcake pans that were not used after the short strawberry season. Dewar decided to inject the little golden cakes with a smooth crème filling. The twinkies were sold two for a nickel and quickly became an American favorite. Based on advertisements, people were likelier to eat fruits when served with a Twinkie.
8. Lay’s Potato Chips and Fritos
It was in 1932 in Nashville, Tennessee, where entrepreneurial Hernan W. Lay began his small potato chip business. That same year, C.E. Doolin tried a bag of corn chips in a café in San Antonio. He loved the chips so much that he bought the recipe for them and started to sell bags of the crunchy snacks out of his Model T Ford.
As Doolin was busy making his corn chips, Lay, on the other hand, was busy producing potato chips. In 1938, Lay bought Atlanta’s Barrett Food Company, then formed H.W. Lay & Company. The two businessmen grew their snack chip companies over the next decades independently. In 1961, they joined forces and made Frito-Lay. Today, Frito-Lay company products account for almost 60% of the snack chip industry in the United States.
9. Skippy Peanut Butter
Back in 1890, a doctor in St. Louis made an easily digestible protein-packed food, which is peanut butter. However, Joseph Rosefield perfected the spread in 1923 by inventing a process that would prevent oil separation. The trademark for Skippy peanut butter was registered in 1933. But it was not available until 1935 when both the creamy and the chunky varieties were launched.
Best Foods acquired Skippy in 1955, spending so much on advertising over the years. One of the most popular campaigns ran in 1979, which included former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, who sold the product as having half the sugar as the other national brands.
Top Reasons for Snacking
Have you ever wondered why many people are into snacking? Well, there are many reasons behind this. It can be due to hunger, for fun, for trying out other kinds of foods, and more. With this, we’ve researched the top reasons why people in the United States snack.
Statista conducted a poll in September 2019 in the United States. The statistics above show the main reasons that drive consumers to snack as a treat. For some 31% of the respondents, snacking is driven by the desire to enjoy something delicious and healthy. Another 31% of the respondents said they snack to have a quick treat. Some also snack to enjoy, get lost in the moment, and have fun, while others do for no reason.
Snack Food Production Market in the United States
Snacking is indeed very popular in the United States. With this, snack food production in the country is continuously increasing. The graph below shows the snack food production market in the United States from 2012 to 2022.
Based on IBISWorld, the snack food production industry in the US market size in 2022 will be $43.6 billion. It is expected to grow by 1.5% in 2022. It has also grown 0.5% per year from 2017 to 2022. The snack food production market in the United States will likely continue to grow in the coming years.
Most Popular Snacks in the United States
In 2017, Bakery and Snacks reviewed the performance of the snacks market in the United States, particularly salty snacks. They revealed the biggest selling brands in each key salty snack subsector. Among the many snacks, popcorn saw the biggest growth in the past year, ratcheting up a massive 9.68%. However, it was only fifth in sales compared to other salty snack sub-sectors. The star performer in dollar sales was the potato chip segment, amounting to almost $7.36 billion.
Top-Selling Salty Snacks in the US (2017)
In 2017, here were the top-selling salty snacks in the United States:
Based on the data above, the highest-selling salty snack in the US is potato chips, earning $7.35 billion in 2017. It was followed by tortilla chips, other salted snacks excluding nuts, cheese snacks, ready-to-eat popcorn, pretzels, corn snacks, and pork rinds.
Top-Selling Potato Chips in the US (2017)
Below are the top-selling potato chips snack brands in the United States in 2017:
Among the many varieties of potato chips available in the market in 2017, the top-selling potato chips snack is Frito-Lay’s Lays potato chips, which earned $2.81 billion. It was followed by another product from Frito-Lay, Ruffles, which earned $870m. 
Top-Selling Tortilla Chips in the US (2017)
Below are the top-selling tortilla chips snack brands in the United States in 2017:
The best-selling tortilla chips snack in the United States in 2017 was Doritos with $2.09 billion in sales, followed by Tostitos with $635m sales, and Tostitos Scoops with $470m sales. All of these are from one company, which is Frito-Lay.
Top-Selling Cheese Snacks in the US (2017)
Below are the top-selling cheese snack brands in the United States in 2017:
Many people in the United States also love to snack on cheese-flavored treats. The top-selling cheese snack in the US in 2017 was Cheetos, which earned $1.61 billion. Second on the list was Chesters, with $120 million in sales. Both of these snacks are from Frito-Lay.
Top-Selling Ready-To-Eat Popcorn in the US (2017)
Below are the top-selling ready-to-eat popcorn snack brands in the United States in 2017:
Popcorn is also among the most popular snacks in the United States. When it comes to ready-to-eat popcorn snacks that can be bought from the market, the top-selling is Smartfood from Frito-Lay, which earned $358 million. It was followed by SkinnyPop from Amplify Snacks, which earned $225 million, and Angie’s Boom Chicka from Angie’s Artisan Treats, which earned $77 million.
Interesting Facts About Snacks
If you are looking into learning more about snacks, below are some of the most interesting facts about snacks that you should know about:
- Did you know that food companies know how people’s brains work in a grocery store? Yes! And they pay big money for good placement. This is the reason behind eye-catching soda displays placed in the front right of the store, to catch people’s attention when they go in.
- Frito-Lay, one of the world’s most popular snack-producing companies, has a research team of around 500 scientists responsible for enhancing their snacks for maximum deliciousness and addictive power. They even have a device that tests the ideal amount of pressure their chips can withstand before they snap.
- One of the powerful assets that food companies have at their disposal is salt. It’s because, based on studies, salt is addictive in some ways as cigarettes, and food companies pack it into their snack items in shocking amounts.
- Doritos contain more than three times as much sodium as potato chips.
- Commercially produced bread contains more salt, which keeps the machines from getting gummed up.
- Sugar is another weapon in the snack manufacturing arsenal. Many snack products are sweetened using pure fructose, which can extend the shelf life of baked goods. Plus, every person is genetically susceptible to love sugar. That’s why food companies put sugar in foods you would not expect.
- Velveeta was once made from broken cheese wheels. However, today, Velveeta does not contain cheese.
- It will take 5,000 cows to make a year’s worth of Cheetos.
- The potatoes used in making Lay’s chips are grown in 25 states.
- Doritos were invented at Disneyland. It was from a Tex-Mex restaurant in Frontierland named Casa de Fritos, owned by Frito-Lay.
- The cookie-to-crème ratio of Oreos is 71:29. Oreos are also vegan as they do not contain milk. They are only made of sugar, flour, oil, cocoa, leavening, high fructose syrup, salt, corn starch, chocolate, and vanillin.
- The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were invented by a janitor by sprinkled chili powder on the original variety. He showed his idea to the executives and has since become an executive vice president at PepsiCo’s North American division.
- Forrest Mars was inspired by soldiers in the Spanish Civil war who ate pieces of chocolate covered in sugar-coating to make M&M’s with a shell to prevent them from melting.
- The flagship chocolate-making facility of Hershey’s is in Hershey, PA. They make 70 million foil-wrapped Kisses each day.
- Pringles are not actually potato chips. They are called potato crisps as they are not made with real potatoes. They are made with dehydrated processed potatoes. That’s why from potato chips, the Food and Drug Administration forced P&G to change its name in 1975 to potato crisps.
Snacking is indeed part of our daily lives. We reach out for some snacks when we feel hungry in between meals. We also look for snacks when we watch movies, bond with our family and friends, and when we feel bored. There are also times when we simply crave our favorite snacks. Many different snacks have come and gone through the years, while many still remain. It is also likely that more new snacks will be introduced in the coming years. We hope this post helped you learn more about the American snack industry.
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