Only in America: People actually getting fatter during recession

Consumers are turning to more affordable grab-and-go alternatives such as chips, cookies, candy, snack wraps and mini-burgers in between meals — and often in lieu of a formal meal — according to a number of industry studies, including one by NPD Group.

Market-research firm Mintel sees double-digit sales gains in the U.S. this year for salty snacks, popcorn and cheese snacks. Potato-chip sales are on a path to increase 22% this year, compared with all of 2007, according to Mintel. Tortilla-chip sales are up 18%.

“Snacks are less and less the hunger-soothing bridge between formal meals,” says Kimberly Egan, chief executive of the Center for Culinary Development, an industry development and research company that tracks consumer trends. “They have become valuable gastronomical events in their own right.”