Roughly half of U.S. consumers believe that a healthy lifestyle has become more important over the past year, according to the 2021 AlixPartners Health and Wellness Survey. Despite this uptick, healthy foods and nonfoods are accounting for only 21% of consumers’ wallets in all product categories.
Price was the leading barrier to purchasing healthier foods and nonfoods, chosen by 40% of U.S. consumers. This was followed by lack of clarity regarding whether something is healthy, a lack of availability in stores, and products that do not meet consumers’ taste or performance expectations.
- The pandemic gave many consumers more confidence about healthy eating. But food and beverage CPGs need to move beyond messaging to help better-for-you reach its sales potential.
When it comes to which healthful foods are making the sale with U.S. consumers, breakfast cereals; bread and baked goods; dried fruit, nuts, and bars; and fresh meat, meat alternatives and seafood led in share of wallet, according to the AlixPartners survey.
Plant-based protein saw a particular boost during the pandemic as shortages of traditional meat led consumers to experiment with alternatives.
A few segments also show promise. Chilled and frozen foods are seeing some of the strongest demand for better-for-you options. This is as demand for frozen foods overall has soared during the pandemic. Roughly half of U.S. consumers (49%) feel there is a lack of healthy frozen "TV dinner" choices. Manufacturers including Nestlé, B&G Foods, Conagra and General Mills have been updating packaging and introducing new frozen items that incorporate more premium and plant-based ingredients to target changing consumer tastes.
Shoppers are also in search of more healthy choices in traditional salty snacks (47%), bread and baked goods (44%), confectionery (41%) and breakfast cereals (39%).
But consumers also identified pain points in buying healthier options in some segments. For dairy and dairy-free products and eggs, 45% of U.S. shoppers said the products were too expensive. For frozen and chilled ready meals and confectionary, more than a third cited unsatisfactory taste and performance as a key barrier to purchase.
David Garfield, global leader of AlixPartners’ consumer products practice, suggested that consumers still view healthy foods as niche. To overcome this, brands need to make health and wellness a central part of their value proposition.
“Brands that thrive will be those who dedicate significant resources to making this shift, with a clear focus on driving innovation and value, and with a transparent and authentic approach to health and wellness issues. Consumers are increasingly alert to 'health washing' and expect to be able to buy products that have it all,” Garfield said in a statement.
With price being the leading impediment for most consumers when it comes to increasing healthy eating purchases, brands are faced with either trimming their margins or forgoing more market share. This is at a time when inflationary pressures are triggering price increases across the wider food and beverage space.
Poor taste and performance may be an easier opportunity to capture consumer interest if food manufacturers can come up with healthy reformulations that are both satisfying and appetizing.
Some categories may always struggle with the niche mentality, however. Although there was demand for healthy confectionery options among 41% of U.S. consumers in AlixPartners' survey, 39% saw no need for them, associating the category with treats and pleasure.