There’s no doubt about it– Americans love their snack foods. In 2014, we spent over $300 billion on snack foods alone. From ice cream, to potato chips, to cupcakes, to elote fritters, we’re a nation of enthusiastic eaters. Snack food trends evolve and grow throughout the years as our tastes change and we are exposed to new flavors. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular snack food trends from previous decades.
The St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 was a powerhouse of snack food exhibition, introducing crowds to now legendary soft drink Dr. Pepper, cotton candy, hot dogs and waffle cones for ice cream. For the first time, these foods were introduced to visiting fairgoers, and the landscape of American snack foods was forever changed.
Although alcohol was still prohibited, Americans indulged in candy and chocolate bars for their sweet snacks. Baby Ruth (named for President Grover Cleveland’s daughter), Mounds, Mike and Ike, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Heath Bars and Butterfingers were all the rage during the roaring 20s.
The second World War created several snack icons out of wartime necessity. Classic sponge cake snack Twinkies originally had a banana-filled center in the 1930s. However, a shortage of bananas during the war led to the vanilla-filled center that we still enjoy today. Even the classic chocolate M & M’s have a wartime origin; their hard candy shell was created to send chocolate snacks overseas to soldiers without melting.
After the war is when fast food exploded in our nation, propelled by the new interstate highway system and Americans’ love of automobiles. French fries and hamburgers were not new snack inventions, but suddenly became all the rage as franchises such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box gained popularity and made these foods accessible to more hungry Americans.
1960s and 1970s
The decades of space exploration, political unrest, and working moms led snacks to take on bold new risks while also comforting consumers with quick snack solutions. Pringles chips in their new stay-fresh tube were a runaway success, as were individual snack puddings– perfect for lunches packed with juice boxes and Fluffernutter sandwiches.
The American snacker became increasingly concerned with their waistline during the 1980s, so many companies came out with “diet” or “light” versions of their traditional snacks. Crystal Light, Diet Coke and Lean Cuisine meals all courted the diet trend of the 80s. On the other the end of spectrum, this was also deemed the “decade of excess,” so snackers were treated to wild creations such as cool ranch Doritos, Fruit Roll-ups, and movie themed products like Ecto-Cooler juice boxes.
Everything became more “extreme” in the 1990s, from 3-D Doritos to purple and green ketchup, to soft drinks with orbiting tapioca parts. This decade pushed snackers’ taste buds to the limit!
2000s to Today
Fusion foods, a mixing of different cultures such as Mexican/Japanese or Italian/Jewish hit American taste buds in the 2000s. This was combined with a major shift in how we snack due to the proliferation of food trucks. In Houston, food trucks started to gain steam in 2014 when the city allowed food trucks to park together into a mobile food court setting.
Put this all together, and you have food trucks like Fork and Truck who play with different cuisines, flavors and snack ideas on their menu. Can you imagine a hybrid French-Creole-Chinese snack? Fork and Truck did with their Foie Gras Boudin Eggrolls, mixing French delicacy foie gras with pork and rice, wrapped like an egg roll and dipped in Creole mustard dipping sauce. A perfect example of a 2000s fusion snack from the food truck trend.
Even though our country’s tastes have changed over the past 100 years, one thing is for sure — America’s appetite for snacks is insatiable!