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Food buying habits and where ‘healthy’ fits

September 23, 2020 | 3 min read

IFIC survey dives into consumer attitudes toward food and health

Did you catch Tree Top’s R&D Blog? If not, it is a fun read and compliments some of the consumer trends highlighted in this year’s Food & Health survey, conducted by International Food Information Council. This is the 15th time the organization has fielded the study. This year’s research was conducted in the height of the pandemic and included more than 1,000 Americans. Each participant was asked about their food purchasing and eating behaviors with specific emphasis placed on the healthfulness of foods.

Below, I have highlighted some of the findings I found most interesting and many parallel with the work Tree Top’s R&D team has been working on since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Top buying influences

In the midst of a pandemic – an event most people have never experienced before – taste (88%) and price (70%) remain the top purchase drivers for food and beverage purchases. These numbers are almost unchanged from the 2010 results. There’s comfort in knowing taste still reigns. It’s a confirmation that despite all the turmoil, our product development must continue to focus on taste.

Other notable pandemic-related findings:

Eating In

More than eight in 10 people altered their food habits because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the most common change is that people are eating at home more.


Despite more cooking at home, Americans are also snacking more – 41% of those under 35 report snacking more than normal and 41% of parents with children under 18 are also snacking more. Only about a quarter of those 50+ say they are snacking more. While some snack eaters go for healthy options, comfort snacking with more indulgent treats is also part of the mix. Interestingly, a quarter of people claim to skip meals entirely.


More than a third of consumers say they’re avoiding certain food and beverages because of safety concerns due to COVID-19. More than 40% of consumers list food handling/prep related to the risk of COVID-19 among their top three food safety concerns.  And of course, this wasn’t even a factor in last year’s study, so it has decreased other past food safety concerns, i.e., foodborne bacteria, chemicals in food/carcinogens and pesticides.

And then there are those notable long-term findings:

I’m healthier!

Examining their own habits over the past decade, 63% of 50+ consumers and more than half of all consumers say healthfulness has more of an impact on their food buying now than it did in 2010. And when making decisions on what to eat and drink, health nudges outweigh considerations. Although half of people rank them equally. No surprise women focus on weight more than men (74% vs. 66%). And those with a college education are more likely to base food choices on healthfulness than weight management.

What’s healthy?

While plant-based meat and dairy consumption has gone up over the past year, three in 10 people still never eat either. Nutrients considered healthy are still led by fiber, whole grains and plant-based protein – in that order —even though the perceived healthfulness of fiber (82%) is down slightly from 2019.

Sweet talk

Interestingly fewer people (74%) are trying to limit or avoid sugars in their diet in 2020 vs. 2019 (80%). With added sugars listings now required on Nutrition Facts panels, consumers seem perplexed. In fact, four in 10 said they consider total sugars and added sugars listings equally. When asked separately about the importance of the two, respondents said total sugars was more important. Despite this, consumers do see added sugars having a negative impact on their health vs. naturally occurring sugars. Ideally, Tree Top’s new fruit waters, balance great taste with less sugar, and is made from naturally occurring sugars.

After thoughts

While there is much more in the IFIC study that I didn’t share here, what I have recounted confirms much of the anecdotal information about changes in behavior due to the pandemic. We’re eating more at home, shopping more online and wary about food safety. Snacking persists for many of us, and we’re reaching for comfort foods.

The long-term data also tends to reinforce what we know about consumer behavior. First taste always drives purchase. Sometimes we get caught up in other trends and lose sight of that. It’s also heartening to see that consumers are focusing on and understanding nutritional components of food, such as fiber and whole grains. And people are reading labels to make purchase decisions based on things like sugar/sweetener content.

If this gets you thinking about product development, let’s talk. Tree Top fruit ingredients can be a delicious addition to your label, adding fiber, phytonutrients, and naturally-occurring sweetness.  Additionally, our dried apples are ideal as a stand-alone healthful snack or to enhance taste in most food applications. To order samples for your next project.

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Looking for bench quality samples to help with your formulation requirements? Connect with us and we’d be happy to send some your way.

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