This Saturday afternoon in June, around 5 p.m., there are more than twenty of them, crowding in front of the bright pink sign of Larry et la chocolaterie, a small grocery store specializing in the import of American snacks and Japanese, rue de Saintonge, in Paris. Once inside, the young customers – the average age is around 13 – most of them accompanied by their parents, scrutinize the shelves with an expert eye. “Do you have any Fluff left?” asks a young girl, who has come especially to buy a jar of this amazing marshmallow paste with its Nivean reflections. It was when she saw a promotional video of Larry – the store owner with a full beard – on TikTok that she wanted to taste this improbable culinary oddity.

“Too good: Watermelon Nerds!” enthuses another teenage boy at the sight of a flashy little cardboard box. The latter contains sour candies with a watermelon flavor, which are not known to be found in France. A few minutes later, other curiosities with exotic flavors will fill the bottom of his plastic basket, made available by the house: a raspberry flavored Hershey’s chocolate bar, two popcorn Kit Kats, a box of Pocky (the Japanese equivalent of Mikado cookies) with mango and, to wash it all down, a packet of Lay’s brand cucumber crisps. The bill will quickly exceed twenty euros.

The big unboxing

There is something touching in watching these parents tenderly nod their heads before putting their hands in their pockets to please their teenagers. At least this time, some seem to say silently, they weren’t dragged to a K-pop concert or the premiere of the latest American blockbuster. Instead, they landed in a small 20 square meter shop filled with crisps, candy bars, sodas and candies. As if the act of buying and consuming snacks from a distant country had become, for this generation born in the years 2000-2010, a form of cultural activity in itself – in the same way as we can feed on movies, concerts or video games.

As proof, on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, snack unboxing videos are regularly displayed as trends and count millions of views. We see young influencers unpacking boxes filled with American, Japanese or Korean snacks, deciphering the labels and meticulously commenting on their tasting, before procrastinating at length on the originality of the new flavors tested. The merchandise (largely supplied by online grocery stores such as My American Shop, My Candy Shop or My American Market and Candysan) then becomes an entry point for exploring a culture and a way of foreign life. If the French teenagers of the 1990s were content to live the American way of life by proxy, dreaming of the inaccessible taste of those brands of sodas, crisps or cookies seen in films or television series, those of the 2020s can on the contrary, having them delivered, snacking on them among peers and, in the end, appropriating them in a much more concrete and spontaneous way.

In the same way, the snack has become a powerful marketing tool – especially when it allows you to identify with a celebrity who promotes it. “In general, customers who walk into the store know exactly what they want,” said Bilel Santos, the salesman on duty that day at Larry and the Chocolate Factory. When American rapper Lil Mosey released a sound in tribute to Blueberry Faygo, a blueberry soda, we were out of stock almost instantly. Everyone wanted to do like him and show up with the can in their hands. »

$25 cereal packets

Sometimes the container is more valuable than what it contains, and it becomes a collector’s item. This is the case, for example, of the cereal boxes of the American brand Reese’s created in collaboration with rappers Travis Scott and Lil Yachty – which resell for more than 25 euros each on secondary online markets such as StockX – or even packets of Rap Snacks crisps (cream and onion flavor) bearing the image of the hip-hop trio Migos, or other stars of the rap scene, all of which have become cults.

Otakus, absolute fans of manga and contemporary Japanese culture, also find in snacks a way to satisfy their devouring passion. Evidenced by the incredible success of Candysan, a site that sends monthly by subscription from Japan thousands of “boxes” each containing a selection of typical Japanese treats: Kit Kat matcha tea flavor, rice chips with white shrimp from Toyama or kinako bars, made with roasted soybean powder. At Larry et la chocolaterie, Japanese sodas from the Ocean Bomb brand are among the best sellers. On the packaging of the cans, the heroes of famous manga or video games in the land of the Rising Sun are available in as many limited series with colorful colors: Dragon Ball Z, Street Fighter, Sailor Moon or Pokémon. “Sometimes the mere presence of a Japanese kanji on the label is enough to arouse covetousness…and therefore rarity,” Bilel Santos points out.

Snacks’ latest foray into popular culture is their appropriation by clothing brands as a fashion accessory. At Nike, the “Oreo” color refers to black and white sneakers, in reference to the colors of the famous American sandwich cookie; the Chunky Dunky model is directly inspired by the world of Ben ice cream