Consumers globally spent $374bn (£230bn) on snack foods in the year from 2013 to 2014, according to the Nielsen Global Survey of Snacking. 

It represents a year-on-year increase of 2%, with the largest spends geographically coming from Europe ($167bn) and North America ($124bn). Annual snack sales are growing faster in developing regions, such as Asia-Pacific, which accounts for $46bn of the market and is up 4%, and Latin America, accounting for $30bn and up 9%.

Confections such as sugary sweets make up the biggest contribution to the overall snack category in Europe at $46.5bn, while snacks such as dips have increased 6.8%. Savoury snacks such as rice cakes and crackers increased 21% last year in Latin America whereas meat snacks like jerky and dried meat grew 25% in the Middle East and Africa and 15% in North America. Refrigerated snacks such as yoghurt, cheese snacks and pudding rose 6.4% in Asia-Pacific.

Susan Dunn, executive vice-president, Global Professional Services, Nielsen, said: “The competitive landscape in the snacking industry is fierce. Demand is driven primarily by taste and health considerations and consumers are not willing to compromise on either.

“Non-sugary snacks, closely aligned with meal-replacement foods, are showing strong growth, which signals a shift in a consumer mind-set to one focused on health. While conventional cookies, cakes and confections still hold the majority of snack sales, more innovation in the healthy snacking and portable food space is necessary to adjust to this changing dynamic.”

Of 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries who were polled, 76% eat snacks to satisfy hunger or a craving, while 45% choose them as a meal alternative – 52% for breakfast, 43% for lunch and 40% for dinner.

Around half of respondents look for snacks with natural ingredients (45%), around a third want fibre, protein and whole grains (37%, 31% and 29% respectively) while low sugar and salt (34%), low fat (32%), low calories (30%) and gluten-free (19%) products are also rated highly.