FMI: Consumer focus on health claims, diets dip suggesting need for marketing shift

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/We Are
Source: Getty/We Are

Related tags: FMI, Health claims

As the threat of COVID-19 ebbs so too has the intense emphasis consumers place on product health claims and the number of dietary patterns they follow, which many embraced during the peak of the pandemic as a tool for bolstering their immunity, reveals new research from FMI: The Food Industry Association.

While at first blush this dip may appear to be a reversion to less healthy or intentional eating, the shift actually could signal “greater stability and less moving from diet to diet”​ as well as more ingrained understanding of the health benefits foods offer or reliance on other indicators beyond claims and diet-related call outs, FMI hypothesizes in its recently released report, The Power Of Health And Well-Being In the Food Industry: New Perspectives And Progress In 2022​.

This subtle shift could have a dramatic impact on how food manufacturers and retailers connect with consumers and market products, underscoring the importance of staying on top of fast-moving consumer trends and evolving perceptions.

‘Shoppers may be relying on … other cues to assess healthfulness’

In the months following the initial coronavirus outbreak, the grocery store became a key destination for health and well-being as consumers looked for guidance from in-store experts, including pharmacists, registered dietitians and other licensed healthcare providers, and from food manufacturers about how they could reinforce their health through diet, according to FMI.

This is reflected in an uptick in the percentage of consumers who believe they are eating as healthy as possible from 27% in 2020 at the start of the pandemic to 41% in 2021. By 2022, this number remained relatively flat at 40%, “suggesting people might be settling into some post-pandemic healthy habits,”​ suggests the report.

At the same time, consumers’ reliance on health-related product claims and the number of eating approaches they follow declined slightly – an indication “that shoppers have slightly relaxed their focus on product claims,”​ FMI argues.

For example, 59% of shoppers in 2022 are seeking product claims to avoid negatives (such as low sugar, sodium, fat, carbs and calories or no added sugar or added hormones). Far fewer (17%) seek positive nutrition claims, such as vitamin-enriched, antioxidant-rich and calcium-fortified or heart health claims (22%) such as heart healthy or lowers cholesterol.

The report explains that the overall decline in areas of concern for shoppers “doesn’t necessarily mean less label reading, but it does suggest that nutrient and health claims are less salient and influential in shopper decision making,”​ and that “shoppers may be relying more on trusted brands, product narratives or other cues to assess healthfulness.”

Likewise, the report found, consumers on average followed 2.3 different dietary approaches in 2022 – down from 2.8 last year.

The percentage of shoppers following diets that are plant-based or plant-forward, ketogenic, and low FODMAP fell two percentage points in 2022 from the previous year while those following diets focused on glycemic index and paleo fell three percentage points and those following the Mediterranean diet fell four percentage points.

While this might be viewed as a decline in consumer interest in mindful eating, the report argues the opposite – claiming, “this suggests greater stability and less moving from diet to diet.”

Focus on the claims that matter most

Either way, retailers and manufacturers might want to rethink their outreach strategies to focus more on the claims and concepts that are resonating more with consumers.

For meat and poultry this means highlighting ‘better-for” attributes, which 86% of consumers said they consider in 2022 compared to 80% in 2019, according to FMI research.

For seafood, FMI found, consumers indicated that nutrition claims have a major impact on their selection with 59% noting they are influenced by claims about ‘high-quality proteins,’ 56% about ‘healthy fats,’ and 52% about essential nutrients. Claims such as no additives or solutions are less impactful with only 47% of consumers citing these as influential.

And for plant-based, the research reveals an opportunity for more broad-based consumer education as 60% shoppers expressed interest in learning more about the nutritional value and environmental impact of these products.

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