The dairy industry has a lot of catching up to do in the snack world. Dairy products accounted for less than 3 percent of the $93.5 billion dollars spent on snack foods in 2009. Snacking: Identifying a World of Opportunities for Dairy was published by Dairy Management, Inc., earlier this year.

With the predicted growth of the snack industry there are some real opportunity areas for dairy and dairy-based snack innovations. Snacks are divided into two categories: nutritious and fun munching. Dairy falls in the nutritious category and is well positioned to take advantage of consumer needs as our society becomes more health conscious.

Currently, the consumption of yogurt and cheese as a snack food is well behind other foods. Current consumption of these products as a snack is 34.9 percent for cheese and 22.8 percent for yogurt. The majority of snacks are consumed at home (78 percent).

Based on total retail dollar sales for snacking, ice cream has the lead with $2.9 billion. Yogurt and cheese follow far behind at $877 and $849 million, respectively. Sales of ice cream and milk are essentially flat, while cheese and yogurt are increasing. Innovation in yogurt products has contributed to the majority of the sales growth.

On a serving basis, milk, cheese and the milk and cheese in prepared foods account for 70 percent of all dairy snacks. Other dairy foods account for the remaining 30 percent of dairy servings.

Eighty-seven percent of consumers report engaging in snacking behaviors. Adults, on average, snack 2.84 times per day and kids almost 4 times. Annually, this adds up to 850 million snacking occasions and a great opportunity to position dairy as a healthy snack leader. Individuals born between 1976 and 1989 are expected to lead the growth in total snacking.

A boom in the consumption of dairy-based snacks is an opportunity, because of the nutritional qualities of dairy products, to help close the deficit for calcium, vitamin D (two-thirds of Americans are deficient), and potassium (9 out of 10 Americans are deficient).

To view the full DMI report, click here. .