“Consumers are relaxing their vigilance, just a little bit,” Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, told attendees at IFT’s virtual annual meeting & expo (IFT FIRST) this week.
Pointing to consumers' “top factors when shopping for food and drink” in July 2020 to March 2021, she explained that the percentage of consumers who listed eating healthy as a priority dropped from 65% in July 2020 to 59% in March 2021. Likewise, only 31% of people listed limiting meat as a priority in March compared to 48% last July, and the percentage of consumers prioritizing cooking from scratch dropped from 65% to 50%, Dornblaser noted.
The only priorities that did not changed dramatically were choosing easy to prepare foods, which fell only 1% from 47% to 46%, and choosing ethical food and drink, which held strong at 32% compared to 34% in the same time period, she added.
“As you can see from this, not every single thing needs to be a healthy choice, but more and more products still need to be a convenient choice,” Dornblaser said.
Fresh prepared gains traction
She explained that this is opening the door for more freshly prepared foods, which were gaining popularity among consumers even before vaccinations were widely available. According to Mintel data, as of last September, 52% of consumers purchased rotisserie chickens, 44% pre-made sandwiches, 41% fried chicken, 39% salads, 38% hot pizza and 23% juice smoothies.
“As you can see, there’s a need for even more choices for all those convenient meal solutions, and also tips and instructions for quick recipes to create those meals quickly and easily. How many different ways to use rotisserie chicken, for example,” Dornblaser said.
She also noted that brands are offering more convenient dinner solutions, such as Tyson’s Instant Pot kits that contain almost everything needed for a meal made in the multi-cooker. Also, frozen smoothie starter kits, such as from Blendtopia, which asks consumers to just add their liquid of choice to their blend of frozen fruits and vegetables.
A back-to-basics approach to ‘healthy’
As consumers relax their dietary vigilance compared to the last peak of the pandemic, they also are evolving their definition of healthy to focus on a more back-to-basics approach, Dornblaser said.
For example, she noted that fewer consumers are prioritizing high protein (down from 30% in July 2020 to 26% in March 2021) and products that are a good source of vitamins and minerals (down 2 percentage points to 21% in March 2021 compared to July 2020). And instead, more are prioritizing products that contribute to their fruit and vegetable intake (up to 29% from 26%), are organic (up to 15% compared to 14%) and lower in fat (up from 19% to 21%), according to Mintel data.
“So, what we see here then, is consumers are taking a little bit of a step back. They’re focusing a little bit more on the basics and it feels like a real opportunity here then for food formulators to really focus on the natural wholesomeness of foods and goodness that is built into what the ingredients are,” Dornblaser said.
Balance healthy and fun
This shift also creates a path for indulgent items to play up their healthier attributes and show that indulgence and health can co-exist, she added.
“Most of the products that are out there that consumer see as both healthy and indulgent tend to be sweet,” like Outshine’s Antioxidant Fruit Ice Bars with Dark Chocolate and Granola, but some savory options also fall into this category, such as Taylor Farms BLT Salad with Chicken and Avocado Ranch Dressing, Dornblaser said.
“The insight to take away from that very small comment is that there’s opportunity to dial up the health credentials on indulgent products” by talking about the wholesomeness of the ingredients and natural goodness of fruits and vegetables, she explained.
Based on this research, she concluded, the trends emerging from the pandemic that are most likely to stick are ones that began before the outbreak – including a greater need for convenience and products that balance health and fun.