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Understanding The Evolving Dynamics Of Food Decisions

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Last updated on August 4th, 2023 at 10:17 am

“Taste is king,” according to decades of data from the International Food Information Council’s annual Food and Health Survey. But taste isn’t the only factor that influences our food choices.

By understanding the interconnections of factors that drive consumer food decisions, grocers and retailers can adapt to meet the demands of conscious consumers, communicate more effectively with them, offer better value to customers, and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable future. 

A recent webinar hosted by IFIC and the National Grocers Association explored how rising costs, social media, “healthy” labels and environmental concerns are shaping American food choices, and offered valuable insights to help grocery retailers thrive in a rapidly changing food landscape. The discussion was led by Kris Sollid, IFIC’s senior director of nutrition communications. 

IFIC’s Food and Health Survey, conducted online April 3-10, 2023, reached 1,022 Americans age 18 to 80. 

Here are some key takeaways from the presentation:

Rising food costs are reshaping American appetites. Half of those surveyed followed a diet or specific eating pattern in 2023, consistent with last year, with younger generations most likely to do so. “High protein” topped the list, with the top five also including mindful eating, calorie counting, clean eating and intermittent fasting. Nine in 10 surveyed have noticed increased food and beverage costs in the past year, up significantly from 2022. Baby Boomers are more likely to notice an increase in comparison with Gen Z and Millennials. Nearly half who saw an increase say it always or often impacts their buying habits; three in 10 say they’ve made less-healthy choices. Younger consumers are more likely to cut back on non-essential items than older folks.

Social media influences food decisions, especially younger generations. Four in 10 have encountered content about food and nutrition on social media; two-thirds say they trust online content, with Millennials the most trusting. For grocers looking to connect with consumers, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are the most common channels for food and nutrition content. Six in 10 say they have made healthier choices as a result of social media, with younger generations and parents more likely to say so. The survey further revealed that 51 percent of respondents tried a new recipe and 42 percent tried a new product as a result of social media. Overall, about a third say they have “reevaluated their relationship with food.”

What do consumers look for on food labels? Half of online and in-person shoppers pay attention to labels “always” or “often”; fewer online shoppers than in 2022 say they always pay attention to labels. “Fresh” and “low in sugar” remain the top two definitions of healthy food, with preference for products labeled as “no added hormones or steroids,” “organic” and “non-GMO” increased in 2023. Fewer consumers are concerned with products labeled as “bioengineered/containing BE ingredients.” 

Millennials believe they are more concerned about healthfulness and nutrition than others (nearly two-thirds vs. half of Gen Z, Gen X and Boomers). Improving energy and managing weight are the top-sought benefits, with weight loss/management increasing in importance. Younger consumers are more likely to seek emotional/mental health benefits, while elders are more concerned with heart health. Three-quarters of respondents say food consumption impacts their mental or emotional well-being, but younger folks are more likely to say their well-being impacts their choices.

Environmental impact is influencing food choices. Meat and poultry purchase decisions are most impacted by climate concerns; fresh produce, dairy and seafood purchases also are commonly impacted by concerns for climate friendliness. About one-third of respondents say climate-friendliness has an impact on their choices. Packaging that is recyclable, reusable and made from recycled products is most often viewed as an indication of environmental sustainability. Cost continues to impact the likelihood of picking an eco-friendly product; about half would select products that offer a compromise of sustainability and price, while only 16 percent would choose the most eco-friendly (and typically most expensive) option.

Taste still ranks as the top driver for food and beverage decisions, with nearly nine in 10 saying it impacts their choices. Price has jumped in importance, from 68 percent to 76 percent.

For more data and exclusive insights, view the complete webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/5045276662403739734.

About the author

Jim Dudlicek

Director, Communications and External Affairs at NGA

Jim Dudlicek is Managing Editor and Content Strategist at NGA. The National Grocers Association is the trade association representing the U.S. independent community supermarket industry. NGA members include retail and wholesale grocers located in every congressional district across the country, as well as state grocers’ associations, manufacturers and service suppliers.

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