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Impacts of COVID-19 and the Rise of Health Foods

As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, people have become more health and wellness aware. The newly adopted healthy trends have impacted consumer choices, especially their food choices. The rise of health foods has taken the world by storm. According to the International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food & Health Survey, 54% of consumers said they care more about the healthfulness of their food and beverage choices in 2020 than they did in 2010. In fact, healthfulness has more impact on consumer choices than taste and price. Here, we discuss how the health food trends impact food choices from cooking ingredients to comfort foods.

Health-Conscious Choices: Organic and Plant-based Ingredients

The most obvious change in consumer behavior is the increased popularity in organic and plant-based ingredients. Sales of plant-based meat grew 42% in 2020 on Instacart compared with 2019. Additionally, Instacart is seeing more shoppers opt for plant-based products while grocers are paying increasing attention to the category. The sale of organic food increased by 12.8% and reached a record $56.4 billion in 2020.

The stay-at-home orders and closed restaurants led people to start cooking more at home, a habit that people believe will stick. According to a survey conducted by Hunter, 71% of consumers expect the cook more even after the pandemic ends. When paired with an increase in health awareness, market researchers expect to see plant-based and organic ingredients continue to grow.

Despite the growth in organic food sales, not many consumers believe that these ingredients are worth the premium that comes with the certified organic label. In a survey by Mintel, only about 20% of consumers agreed that organic food was worth the extra cost. Therefore, retailers should find a balance between price and health.

Many retailers have responded to these trends efficiently. In May 2021, Target added a plant-based product line to its private label brand Good & Gather. This line introduces more than 30 products, including new meat alternatives, plant-based dips, and spreads. All products are being sold for under $8. This release follows another retailer Kroger, which launched a plant-based line under its brand Simple Truth. Additionally, Albertsons rolled out a plant-based private label frozen food with 55 new products to O Organics.

Immunity Boosters: Foods for a Stronger Immune System

In line with the new health-conscious behaviors, consumers are looking to support and strengthen their immune systems. The pandemic certainly caused consumers to be more aware of how strong their body is to infection and disease. In fact, 23% of consumers admitted to stockpiling more vitamins and supplements recently, according to a GlobalData survey.

The International Food Information Council showed that health-motivated eaters rank immune function the same as muscle health and strength as what they seek from food. These health seekers cite immune function 40% of the time, a rate that trails only weight management, energy, and digestive and heart health as a food-centered objective. Labels that consumers are looking for are whole-food ingredients or “superfoods.” These foods include blueberries, cranberries, and acai berries. Foods like these offer many nutritional benefits, such as providing antioxidants, fighting inflammation, and increasing fiber intake.

Comfort Foods: Healthier, More Sustainable Snacks

One last food “group” that experienced increased popularity is comfort foods. It is no surprise that the stress of the pandemic and events of 2020 led to the reliance on snackable foods. However, the health food trend led to consumers seeking healthier alternatives to their familiar snacks. The 2020 Food & Health Survey, conducted in April of 2020, reported that 26% of Americans snacked multiple times a day, which was unchanged from 2019. By August 2020, that number had increased to over 36%.

While the most popular brand names were a safe and constant choice, consumers also turned towards smaller brands that had new recipes, exciting flavors, and healthier profiles. These healthy profiles consisted of more sustainable and simple ingredients that not only supported the health trend, but also the sustainability movement. In 2021, since nearly 4 in 10 report replacing meals with snacks, expect to see more substantial snacks (think protein, healthy fats and whole grains) serving as meal replacements.

Overall, it is clear that the disruptive year that was 2020 had major impacts on the food industry, particularly in grocery. The new health food trend gained an extra boost that retailers expect to continue progressing in the next few years, as health and wellness remain top of mind for many consumers. To remain competitive, food and beverage companies must turn towards plant-based and organic ingredients, meat alternatives, and boosting their sustainability profiles.

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Contributions by Maggie Wong

Tags: Consumer Products Trends