Britain is a nation of snack-eaters, spending more on crisps and chocolate than any other country in Europe, a survey shows. An average of £204 per person is spent on snacks every year, research by the market analyst Datamonitor found.

Britain is a nation of snack-eaters, spending more on crisps and chocolate than any other country in Europe, a survey shows. An average of £204 per person is spent on snacks every year, research by the market analyst Datamonitor found.

Spaniards spend just £55 a year, the French, £146 and Italians, £115. The total snacks market in Britain is now worth £12.3m a year.

Analysts blamed the rise of snacking on unsociable working hours, changing shift patterns and the number of journeys people make each day. Britons recorded the highest number of journeys per day in Europe last year. The average adult made 6.4 trips a day, compared to a European daily average of 4.5.

Danielle Rebelo, a consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor, said: "Stress levels are often higher while people are commuting, and transport problems and cramped conditions during the rush-hour mean consumers are seeking comfort from eating and drinking on the move.

"Driving generates most of the on-the-move consumption because consumers are more likely to eat and drink when a car journey includes a stop at a petrol station, since they then have the opportunity for impulse purchases."

Sales of crisps, nuts and other "bagged snacks" amount to £1.77bn a year. Cake sales rose by 5 per cent in 2004, to £800m a year and Britons now spend an average of £45 per annum on chocolate.

The rise of snacking has been blamed for increasing rates of obesity, particularly among children.

With increasing numbers of people now "desk-fasting" - eating the first meal of the day at work - sales of cereal bars rose 31 per cent last year. But the news is not all bad. The Datamonitor report also identifies the rise of "healthy" snacks, such as rice crackers and products marketed under the Atkins Diet label. Fewer than one in four people believes eating between regular meals is intrinsically unhealthy.

Ms Rebelo said: "Consumers desire healthy, convenient products that provide guilt-free satisfaction. They are becoming more health-conscious and this influences product choice."

Latest additions to the market include doner kebab and balti curry-flavoured crisps. Over the Christmas period, sales of pies and sandwiches are said to have jumped 5 per cent.

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