Friday, September 25, 2020

Dairy Foods Innovating: Help Consumers Double Down on Healthful Eating


Hope you are enjoying these first days of autumn, or if you are Down Under, Happy Spring! These are crazy times…but remember we are all better together!

C+R Research recently surveyed 2,040 consumers and asked them how COVID-19 has affected their food budget, shopping habits and diets. Here’s what they found:

  • 85% of American consumers report paying more for groceries during COVID-19 with an average weekly spend of $139.
  • Meat, eggs and milk were among the top-three items that Americans say they’ve been paying more for during COVID-19. 
  • 65% have cut back on their weekly food budget during the pandemic. 
  • 65% have changed their diet during the pandemic with 71% reporting “stress eating” more. 
  • 65% of respondents say they would spend the majority of a second stimulus check on groceries and food. 
Link HERE to explore the survey.

Interestingly, according to the survey, 48% of respondents say they are paying more for milk and 29% for cheese, yet changes in price indexes since February 2020 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis don’t jive with what consumers think. Their purported price increases in dairy are unsubstantiated. 

What does that mean? Dairy foods marketers have to work harder on emphasizing the value of their products. 

Let’s discuss that 7 out of 10 consumers who say they’ve been stress eating since the pandemic. There’s been a lot of talk about the “Quarantine 15” pounds of weight gain. It’s no wonder, as many Americans have chosen to eat like kids again, according to new research. No matter gender, age or location, feel-good, nostalgic food has made perhaps the biggest comeback of all time in 2020. 

This new national survey of 2,000 adults, conducted in July 2020 by OnePoll for Farm Rich, found that two in three Americans are reverting to childhood food favorites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. That includes an uptick in favorites like pizza (55%), hamburgers (48%), ice cream (46%), French fries (45%), mac and cheese (38%), spaghetti and meatballs (32%) and others.

For the full survey results, check out this one-minute VIDEO

Here are some quick bites from the survey:

  • 69% say they will continue to enjoy the same amount of comfort food that they are now, post-pandemic.
  • 41% reach for comfort food to bring happiness.
  • 85% have gained a few pounds staying at home: an extra six pounds on average.
  • 90% say their online and social searches for food inspiration have increased during the pandemic.
  • The comfort food meal everyone is most looking forward to enjoying at a restaurant post-pandemic is steak.

“When things are uneasy, it’s the little joys that get us through, whether that’s FaceTiming with family and friends or stronger bonds made over homecooked meals,” says Ciera Womack, senior marketing manager at Farm Rich. “And as these responses show, sometimes it’s seeking comfort in certain foods to provide us more relief.”

The survey showed that roughly 30 more minutes are spent each day cooking in the kitchen compared to the same time last year. And, it is Millennials who are spending most on comfort food items from the store.

“Food is a common denominator in what gives us comfort during these stressful times,” says Womack. “This survey throws a spotlight on the changing American table in 2020, and how these types of foods are having a positive impact on our lives right now.” 

Comfort foods also tend to be convenient, make that “modern convenient,” a new term from the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., described in the “COVID-19 and New Modern Convenience,” white paper. Indeed, the call for convenience has never been louder. Many home cooks are tiring, and while they may be increasingly price conscious, many are willing to spend a little more on foods they deem as convenient.

Traditional notions of convenience, defined in terms of easy, quick and accessible, were about helping the consumer by taking away the thought, time and physical energy needed to procure and prepare food. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing consumers to reevaluate existing concerns and new trade-offs, which has implications for convenience. (See infographic below.)

“The pandemic is causing elements of ‘modern’ convenience to take on new meaning and relevance in line with shifting needs,” says Laurie Demeritt, Hartman Group’s CEO. “New definitions and nuances of ‘empowering’ convenience prioritize consumers’ role in caring for self and others, while ‘engaging’ convenience emphasizes purpose-driven purchases. ‘Flexible’ convenience in a pandemic context allows consumers to create adaptable pantries and versatile food solutions.”

Food innovation intelligence platform Spoonshot teamed up with Liz Moskow, international food trendologist and principal at Bread & Circus Ltd., to predict and interpret the food trends that will impact menus, product development and consumer behavior into 2021. Moskow leverages Spoonshot’s massive data pool that processes millions of inputs every day to predict trends before they happen. 

“Both slight and dramatic changes in society, technology, the environment, the economy and in the political landscape shape trends in consumer behavior,” says Moskow. “Typically, these factors shift steadily over the course of several years manifesting changes in how people purchase and consume food and beverage products. When COVID-19 hit, it caused and continues to drive dramatic changes in the way people view, engage with and purchase food and beverage. The entire trajectory of consumer behavior changed almost overnight.”

Her number-one food trend prediction is the continued vilification of sugar.

“Both changes in FDA labeling requirements and food technology advancements are paving a path for new approaches to sweetening,” says Moskow. “The pandemic completely knocked us off track in terms of healthy eating and living in its initial months. Inconsistent routines, lower activity levels and stress saw consumers gravitate to comfort food and reap the consequences of this shift in behavior.
“Now, however, most of them are re-prioritizing improving their diets, which will include cutting down on sugar,” she says. “This will also drive the demand for sugar substitutes and new technologies in the sugar reduction space.”

Hartman Group Senior Vice President Shelley Balanko says that that while obesity was temporarily shifted toward the back row of the past six month’s headlines, it has not gone away as a human health issue.

“Certainly, COVID-19 hasn’t helped our collectively bulging waistlines, and many sources credit the stress and anxiety of our current epoch as driving heightened consumption of iconic comfort foods, many of which feature increased levels of sugar, salt, fat and preservatives,” says Balanko. “While changes in eating habits are among the culprits behind the Quarantine 15, consumers haven’t given up completely on how they manage their health and wellness by regulating their eating behavior.”

She explains that consumers manage their health and wellness through three different approaches to eating. They are:

  • Regulate and rationalize: This is where a lot of health and wellness perimeter food eating comes in. In this approach, consumers focus on healthy eating and following specific diets.
  • Intuit and interpret: This still has quite a bit of fresh perimeter food but there’s also more processed food in this mindset. In this approach consumers choose what to eat based on how it makes them feel.
  • Retreat and regroup: This is the stage in which consumers decide to take a break from health and wellness eating, and avoid the typical rules they set around eating and snacking habits. (This is what many have been doing the past six months.)
“Not considering COVID, consumers typically kind of toggle between these three approaches all the time,” says Balanko. “Early in COVID, we saw a lot of retreat and regroup and now we’re starting to see consumers go back to regulate and rationalize. They’re going to be doubling down on healthy eating now because the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the tenuous nature of our own personal health, as well as public health.”

Balanko says that consumers are going back to their commonsense and typical food philosophies, which for the last decade have been prioritizing fresh, real, less-processed perimeter foods. This includes dairy foods. 

Her long-term prediction is that consumers are really going to be searching out snack foods that have higher nutrient density, a trend that was in motion prior to the pandemic but has been accelerated due to COVID-19.

Need technical guidance on frozen dessert innovation? Register for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s annual Frozen Dessert Center Technical Conference. Presentations will be available online and on-demand from October 19 to 28 with a live Q&A session on October 28.
For more information, link HERE.

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