While health and wellness has been an emerging trend in the food and beverage industry far before the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 has made the trend develop even more quickly. Food processing company Archer-Daniels-Midland has identified several ways consumer behavior has changed during the pandemic and how the food industry has adapted to meet these trends; many of the findings revolved around addressing nutrition concerns and generally boosting health.
According to Ana Ferrell, ADM’s vice president of global marketing and human nutrition SI, millennial and Generation Z consumers have already been attracted to these health-forward trends, older age groups have also begun prioritizing healthy food and beverage products amid the pandemic.
“Consumers are also looking at nutrition as a way to promote health,” she added. “So I think there has been a natural evolution already happening, and COVID-19 has kind of boosted that.”
In IRI’s State of Snacking 2020 webinar, executive vice president and practice leader Sally Lyons Wyatt presented top consumer snack trends and how the pandemic has affected these trends. The report also identified snacks with nutrition benefits as highly valuable to consumers with 38% seeking out food with probiotics and 54% desiring snacks with vitamins and minerals.
“Where consumers once viewed snacks as indulgences, today’s shoppers increasingly look for snacks that can help them achieve their health and wellness goals,” said Pam Stauffer, Global Marketing Programs Manager at Cargill in another SmartBrief article.
Plant-based foods are no longer considered purely a specialty item at either groceries or on menus; brands such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have brought meat replacements to the mainstream. But, consumers are looking for plant-based alternatives in more categories, such as cheese, shellfish and ice cream. These food groups present a unique set of challenges for producers. Consumers are looking for these alternatives to replicate not only the nutrition of their animal-product counterparts but also the experience of eating these foods, such as ensuring that plant-based cheese melt in a similar way to dairy cheese, according to Ferrell.
“The two most important things are going to be related to taste and texture because those are the first indicators of soil experience that will actually trigger,” said Ferrell. “So how do I recreate those memory cues, social cues of an experience that you already know?”
Nestle CEO Mark Schneider echoed that the manufacturer’s plant-based foods have seen a surge in sales during the pandemic, citing a renewed interest in health by consumers as a primary catalyst in the boost.
ADM reports that 57% of consumers say they are more worried about their immunity because of the pandemic. While Ferrell asserts that dietary supplements are still a popular way for people to address health and nutrition concerns, many are looking for foods and beverages that can also help those same functionality concerns.
She added that, like most of these other trends, the evolution of immunity-focused foods was already beginning before the pandemic hit, but the virus has accelerated the demand and development of these products. Food and beverages with probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics have been especially in demand, according to ADM.
Beverages have been a category ripe for innovation in the health and wellness space. Unilever’s electrolyte drink mix brand Liquid I.V. and Bolthouse Farms have both released new products designed to improve immunity during the pandemic. Also, enhanced waters outpaced the overall shelf-stable water segment’s growth by 12.8% over the past year, according to SPINS’ “Functional and Enhanced Beverages” report.
Another current food and beverage trend expected to grow in the future is customized or personalized nutrition. One-size-fits-all diets or food and drinks have proven to not be enough. Each person has different nutrition needs because of their individual microbiome, said Ferrell. These different functionality concerns include hydration, alertness and mental acuity.
“We’re excited to be part of that emerging area of transformation because I think historically diets come and go,” said Ferrell. “But I think consumers are always having to compromise and having to make such choices that tend to be very drastic sometimes, and after the last six months, nine months, I’m not sure consumers are going to be as open to such a restrictive diet.”
The food industry has been meeting more and more demand for healthier options in recent years, but the virus has clearly expedited this trend even further as consumers prioritize health and wellness during the pandemic. The future of the food industry will continue to account for these pandemic-related changes in consumer behavior.
“I think that more and more the connection and associations of the food that we eat with how healthy we are is becoming much more of a fluid connection for consumers,” Ferrell said.
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