Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Immunity-boosting ingredients, diets rival comfort food for center stage in 2021

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Immunity-boosting ingredients, diets rival comfort food for center stage in 2021

Related tags Soup-To-Nuts Podcast Immunity Value

Even though the coronavirus vaccine is slowly, albeit a bit unsteadily, rolling out, a recently published survey of dietitians predicts Americans in 2021 will continue to seek protection from COVID-19 and its rapidly spreading variants from food and beverages that promise to support their health – physically and emotionally.

At the same time, the 2021 “What’s Trending in Nutrition”​ survey ​published last month by Pollock Communication and Today’s Dietitian found that due to the pandemic’s lingering negative impact on the economy Americans also are reevaluating their spending habits to prioritize value and affordability when filling their grocery carts.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast​, Pollock Communications nutrition communication lead Samina Kalloo breaks down how the pandemic and these three, sometimes-conflicting priorities, in particular, are reshaping consumer diets. She explains how consumers’ greater understanding or willingness to learn about food’s connection to health and wellness has prompted “some interesting changes”​ in top trending superfoods and ingredients, and how consumers’ evolving definition and demand for value will impact innovation, packaging and marketing going forward.

[Editor’s Note: Never miss another episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast – subscribe today.]

Immunity-boosting remains top priority for food purchases

The most notable impact of the ongoing pandemic on Americans' diets and grocery shopping habits has been the rise in demand for immunity-boosting foods and beverages. Pollock Communication and Today’s Dietitian’s ninth annual “What’s Trending in Nutrition”​ survey also shows how increasingly sophisticated consumer understanding of nutrition on health is pushing them to seek functional ingredients beyond those long-recognized as beneficial.

Consumers “are still looking for those tried and true health benefits from value-based foods to support their immune system, such as orange juice or cranberry juice for vitamin C. That’s been evident by the increase in sales over the past year for orange juice and cranberry juice as well as milk for vitamin D. But now it goes beyond that,”​ Kalloo said.

She explained consumers now understand the connection between gut health and immunity and so they are gravitating towards fiber-packed options that also are anti-inflammatory to support their gut health and provide immunity benefits.

For example, fermented foods tops the list of top 10 superfoods consumers are seeking, followed by other antioxidant packed ingredients, including blueberries and green tea.

Green tea rises through the ranks of top superfoods

While consumer interest in gut-health during the pandemic may have reinforced yogurt and other fermented food’s top spot in the survey’s list of top 10 superfoods, Kalloo notes it caused a dramatic shake up in the rest of the list.

“We’re seeing some interesting changes in the what’s trending and nutrition top 10 superfoods list this year. And one big one is green tea. Green tea has jumped from number 10 last year to number three this year, and that really underscores consumer demand for soothing beverages that also are functional and provide health benefits,”​ Kalloo said.

“In addition, spinach and leafy greens made a debut on the list this year,”​ as consumers move toward plant-based diets and seek options with strong health benefits but low calories, Kalloo added.

Consumers balance function and affordability

While many of the ingredients on the survey’s top 10 list of superfoods are affordable, like greens, others are not. Exotic fruit coming in the fourth place after fermented foods, blueberries and green tea, can command a significant premium, as can seeds, which came in fifth, nuts at nine and salmon at 10.

The high price point of some of these ingredients may put them out of reach of some consumers hit hardest during the economic downturn, but Kalloo notes that some shoppers will make tradeoffs elsewhere in their life in order to purchase nutrient-dense, immunity-boosting foods.

Mental wellness weighs on shoppers

Just as important to consumers as buying food that nourishes their body and support their physical health during the pandemic, is purchasing products that also support their emotional and mental well-being. According to Kalloo and the survey, this is playing out as a preference for comforting and nostalgic foods.

“Emotional eating is a normal thing and that’s okay We have always actually eaten for comfort, but now more than ever because we are at home”​ and seeing moments of connection with family and friends in real life and virtually through food, she explained

Some of the ways this is playing out is with parents buying for their children indulgent food that they enjoyed when young, such as cereal. Dairy milk, which often plays a supporting role alongside cereal, also is enjoying a resurgence in hot cocoa bombs and other rich dishes.

But Kalloo notes that in consumers’ embrace of indulgent and comforting foods, they haven’t completely turned their back on better-for-you options. Indeed, she says, many are swapping more nutritious ingredients for conventional options in classic recipes.

Snacking increases as pandemic-friendly approach to food

As Kalloo hinted at, snacks have played a prominent role in pandemic-eating, but according to the survey the vast majority of dietitians believe that snacking will overtake the traditional three meals a day as the pandemic continues.

But, their rise isn’t all about small indulgences and comfort, it is also about convenience and portion control.

Consumers seek a more balanced diet

Consumer interest in health and emotional wellness isn’t just changing what they, but also how they eat. Kalloo explains that the latest edition of the “What’s Trending in Nutrition”​ survey predicts consumers will turn their back on fad diets with questionable scientific support and instead embrace a more-balanced approaches.

For example, survey respondents predict intermittent fasting will surpass the ketogenic diet as the #1 diet for 2021.

“Consumers are seeking out diets that will help promote a heathy immune system and help them live longer, healthier lives. We’re hearing healthy aging pretty often and now and consumers are looking for ways to promote that,”​ she said.

One way is through intermittent fasting which the survey predicts will replace keto as the nation’s top diet for 2021.

Survey participants also predict consumers will gravitate to diets and products made with natural, clean ingredients.  In this regard, Kalloo says the survey predicts CBD, collagen and hemp will be breakout ingredients in 2021.

Tried and true still win

While the pandemic is inspiring substantial shifts in what and how consumers eat, Kalloo says that dietitians will continue to promote tried and true health and wellness tips in 2021 that she expects will influence consumer purchasing well into the future. These include eating more veggies, limiting processed and sugary foods, boosting fiber intake and cutting back on caloric beverages.

Ultimately, the survey reveals that while much about consumers’ approach to food and diet has changed because of the pandemic, a lot has also remained the same.

What we don’t know yet is the extent to which current patterns will continue once economies reopen and we come closer to living life as we did pre-pandemic. To find that out, we will have to wait for next year’s “What’s Trending in Nutrition”​ survey. Until then, interested listeners and readers can learn more about this year’s survey by visiting

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