Commenting on the results of the latest International Food Information Council’s annual Food and Health Survey1, the organization’s CEO said, “Americans are craving stability and a return to normalcy when it comes to their food decisions.” Honestly, that seems like a given. Stability and normalcy – aren’t these the things we want regarding life in general on the heels of this pandemic? Getting vaccinated and getting back to normal…did we really need research to figure that out?
Sure, the overview statement seems obvious, but that’s the beauty of research – it confirms our assumptions. And this IFIC survey offers us much more. This is their 15th annual, so there’s historical data. It also provides us a window into our food selections, showing what we’re doing and how our decisions are changing over time.
How soon we forget
One great thing about American consumers is our resilience. In 2020, 85% reported having made some change to their eating or food prep habits due to the pandemic, this year only 72% said the same. Other notable year over year declines:
|Cooking at home more||60%||47%|
|Washing fresh produce more||30%||22%|
|Thinking about food more||27%||13%|
|Eating more in general||20%||11%|
|Eating more premade meals||19%||11%|
As illustrated above, Americans are beginning to sideline many of their pandemic eating patterns in favor of convenience and outsourcing food preparation again. During the pandemic, people focused more on food—eating and preparing it. (Some of us even obsessing over it.). As people transition to more activities outside the home, the former focus on food is waning. It was fun to explore, but seriously, that’s not normal!
Undoubtedly some pandemic behaviors are here to stay. Online food shopping is one. It was on an upward trajectory in the before times – 27% shopped for food online at least once a month in 2019. The pandemic just accelerated adoption – 33% in 2020 and 42% in 2021.
Another factor impacting healthy food decisions is food insecurity. The IFIC survey reported that 15% of Americans often bought ‘less-healthy foods’ than they preferred due to a shortage of funds for healthier one. And three-quarters of those reporting food insecurity said it had worsened since the pandemic.
Good news, as a nation, our capability to identify healthy foods is increasing. In fact, 73% of Americans said they’re confident in their ability to select healthy foods. More of us are aware of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (46%) and that they provide info to make smart food choices. That’s huge, considering in 2010 awareness was only at 23%. Interestingly, although 70% of Baby Boomers are confident, they can choose healthy foods, they know relatively little about the DGA and other healthy food resources compared to Millennials. Almost two-thirds of Boomers have either never heard of the DGA or know very little about it.
Following a specific dietary pattern is not for Boomers. Only a quarter reported following one over the past year, while 38% of Gen X and 53% of Millennials did. The No. 1 reason for Boomers to adopt a healthy eating regimen was to preserve their long-term health and prevent future health conditions. Millennials, although health conscious, still value taste, price, and convenience over healthfulness.
More than 50% of both Boomers and Millennials claim that it’s at least somewhat important to them that their food is produced in an environmentally sustainable way. There is also rising social consciousness about the fair and equitable treatment of food workers. Although overall, this is more significant to Millennials than to Boomers.
Fruit for thought
On a final note, as we look ahead to stability and a return to normalcy – whatever that may be –the IFIC research shows market demand is poised to grow for good tasting, healthy, convenient foods. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that fruit ingredients (purees, concentrates, dried) are ideal for healthy food and beverage development. So, let’s talk or better yet, let’s get together to discuss your next healthy food/beverage development project. I’m anxious to be with people in person again. Contact us today.
1International Food Information Council. 2021 Food & Health Survey. 19 May 2021. [https://foodinsight.org/2021-food-health-survey/]