US consumers are more conscious than ever about what they are eating and how food and beverage production impacts the world, that is according to recent findings by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. The consumer survey polled 1,012 Americans aged 18-80 on behavior and perception surrounding food and purchasing decisions. It found that sustainability is driving consumer behavior, which in turn has created a growing interest in food technology, especially in the case of lab-grown meat. Additionally, increased attention to detail about food is predicted to lead to more conscious and balanced diets. The foundation underscores the challenge for food manufacturers to clearly explain the stories behind their products to win the trust of consumers who are hungry for knowledge about their food.
“In 2020, we predict that topics surrounding sustainability, alternative foods and healthy diets will move in some unexpected directions,” says Joseph Clayton, President and CEO of IFIC.
Despite the buzz around the keto diet in the US, only six percent of respondents report following a ketogenic or high-fat diet,” Megan Meyer, Ph.D., Director, Science Communications at IFIC tells. “While we didn’t ask about mindful and intuitive eating in that question, we have found that nearly 50 percent of Millennials (age 18-34) are familiar with this type of eating compared to about a quarter of consumers over the age of 50,” she adds.
The “un-diet” focuses less on food restrictions and more on natural cues from the body, like when we are full, and on healthier relationships with food overall. The holistic approach to food is expected to hold more weight in the market than fad diets in 2020.
While sustainability has been gaining steam throughout the 2010s, Innova Market Insights has officially declared sustainability as a mainstream trend in 2020. Concern over food production which can last for generations has never been so important. The market researcher found that the percentage of consumers that expect companies to invest in sustainability jumped from 65 percent in 2018 to 98 percent in 2019.
Sustainability goes beyond the health of the environment in the eyes of US consumers. Between 2012 and 2018, IFIC found that 35 percent and 41 percent of consumers made food and beverage purchasing decisions based on sustainability. However, when the 2019 survey asked if environmental sustainability was a factor in purchase choices, that number dropped to 27 percent.
IFIC indicates that the drop in decision-making based on “environmental” sustainability may suggest that consumers’ notions of sustainability extend beyond just the environment to regenerative agriculture and soil health, as well as packaging and production methods.
Tell it to them
Explaining details to the consumer is increasingly important in earning trust in sourcing, production, processing and sustainability. Storytelling was named the number one trend for 2020 by Innova Market Insights for the spur in NPD that wins consumers over with words.
The IFIC consumer survey reported that it is difficult to decipher which products are actually sustainable and which are not. According to the 2019 Food and Health Survey, 63 percent said it is hard to know whether the food choices they make are environmentally sustainable. Among that group, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say environmental sustainability would have a greater influence on their choices if it were easier to know.
Storytelling can also be used by manufacturers to acquaint consumers with certain terminology in the food marketing lexicon. IFIC found that the US market varied in its understanding of the term “plant-based.”
About one-third (32 percent) of consumers say a plant-based diet is a vegan diet. In contrast, another 30 percent define it as a diet that emphasizes minimally processed foods that come from plants, with limited consumption of animal meat, eggs and dairy. Another one in five (20 percent) believe it to be a vegetarian diet that avoids animal meat, while 8 percent say it is a diet in which you try to get as many fruits and vegetables as possible, with no limit on consuming animal meat, eggs and dairy.
Food tech expands
Concern for sustainability is propelling consumers to reach for non-traditional ways of consuming, including alternatives for meat and dairy and cell-based agriculture.
While soy and almond milk have long held a firm position as a dairy alternative, IFIC points to oat milk as the star dairy alternative for 2020. This is in addition to a plethora of meat alternatives fresh on the market.
2020 will see the rise of cell-based meat, in part due to the promise of new legislation which can help regulate its safety in the US, according to IFIC. “Cell-based meat goes by many names: cultured meat, cell-cultured meat, lab-grown meat and “clean” meat. At the end of the day, all these designations refer to the same thing: growing a full piece of meat from animal cells in a lab,” says Meyer.
In March 2019, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they would work together to regulate cell-cultured food products. This means that any type of food product that will be grown in a lab that derives from an animal origin will be regulated and inspected to ensure that it’s both safely produced and accurately labeled.
Other findings show that taste remains the number one driving factor of food purchasing decisions, followed by price. Taste was most important to older consumers, whereas younger consumers decided based on price first. Meanwhile, clean label is important to nearly two-thirds of US consumers who said recognizing the ingredients that go into a product had at least some impact on their purchasing decisions.