Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, consumers are becoming more focused on eating for their health — and CPG companies are working to innovate to bring the types of products consumers are looking for to market as soon as possible, according to ingredients giant Archer Daniels Midland.
ADM, which uses ongoing research to keep tabs on consumer interests and insights, found six behavioral shifts during the pandemic. All are related to health and wellness to some degree. According to its research, consumers are more interested in the connection between gut health and immunity; focusing on metabolic health's impact on weight management; eating to improve mental health; interested in personalized nutrition; and planning to spend more money on health and wellness related items. It also states that plant-based eating is becoming mainstream.
The findings from ADM's OutsideVoice research portal showed that 77% of consumers want to do more to stay healthy in the future. Ana Ferrell, the company's vice president of marketing in North America, said that many manufacturers have stayed in tune with what consumers want. Several are having ongoing conversations with ADM about new applications and functionalities they want to bring to products — both existing favorites as well as new ideas. Ferrell said that everyone is looking for these innovations to hit the market in 2021, which is a very fast time frame for an industry that is historically slow to revamp and innovate.
"Consumers are more and more educated, and they are much more open to experimenting to try different things," she said. "And I think innovation is going to be extremely reinvigorated in the food and beverage space. The industry has been more traditionally reactive. But I feel like now there's so much opportunity to connect with consumers in new ways."
Given the steady upward trajectory for plant-based food consumption, Ferrell said she would have expected to see more consumer adoption and acceptance of plant-based food in mid-2020, even without the coronavirus pandemic. After all, consumers are getting more curious about plant-based meat in general.
The statistics, however, show more than a curiosity, but potentially a real solidification of the segment among consumers. According to ADM, 18% of U.S. consumers bought their first plant-based protein products during the pandemic. And almost all of them — 92% — say they will continue buying these products.
Eating more plant-based proteins seems to be a normal lifestyle for many now, Ferrell said. Several in the industry used to try to make products appeal more to those who adopted a flexitarian path — people who are primarily vegetarian, but occasionally eat meat or fish. Now, Ferrell said, it's becoming something that all consumers are starting to do. The reason many consumers give for wanting to eat more plant-based food is the health halo those products bring with them, Ferrell said.
"Consumers are more and more educated, and they are much more open to experimenting to try different things. And I think innovation is going to be extremely reinvigorated in the food and beverage space. The industry has been more traditionally reactive. But I feel like now there's so much opportunity to connect with consumers in new ways."
Vice president of marketing, ADM
This finding is corroborated in several other studies. The 2020 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council found that nearly seven in 10 consumers said protein from plant sources are healthy, ranking it as the third most considered healthy ingredient. Also, slightly more than half of consumers said they are trying to consume more plant protein.
But plant protein isn't the only ingredient or type of food with a halo pushing its success in 2020. ADM's survey found 57% of global consumers are more concerned about their immunity because of the pandemic. Knowing more about gut health's relation to immune health is moving more consumers toward products with ingredients to help improve that. A total of 51% of consumers are looking for items that contribute to their metabolic health to promote healthy weights, which Ferrell said is especially important given the relatively sedentary lifestyles many consumers have had during the pandemic. Three in 10 are looking for and purchasing items that are tailored to helping improve specific health and wellness issues. And 48% say they will purchase more items related to health and wellness.
While all of these trends have been well documented and circulating through food and beverage in the recent past, Ferrell said consumers' new emphasis on eating for mental health has surprised her. More than a third of consumers said they were concerned about their mental health.
"Not because the context would not determine that, but because maybe this was not as top of mind: ... the rise of this importance behind self-care and emotional well-being," Ferrell said. "And I believe that with all the sheltering in place, and the anxiety and stress associated with the ambiguity of this pandemic, and the uncertainties also in the face of the economic impact of global markets, [it] has really created a much heightened concern coming from consumers."
Ferrell said that from what she can see from ADM, many products that address some of these issues are likely to be hitting the market in the next six to nine months.
Companies right now should be focusing on using these consumer insights to help build their brands, Ferrell said. Consumers are looking for their health, but also what they know, something of which brands should take advantage.
"What a great fascinating opportunity to reinvent, reinvigorate and refresh brands, right?" Ferrell said.