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Taste, price still dominate food purchasing factors

Healthfulness matters more to consumers now than it did in past years.

Taste and price are still the top factors for consumer food purchasing decisions, the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2020 “Food & Health Survey” found. Just over 1,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 80 were surveyed to better understand their perceptions, beliefs and behaviors surrounding food and food purchasing decisions.

While there was some movement year to year in the degree to which purchase drivers affect consumers, the comparison of 2010 results to 2020 shows almost no change, IFIC noted.

This year’s survey continued an examination of issues related to health and diet, food components, food production and food safety, but it also explored new topics, such as how food and health behaviors have changed in the past decade (2010-20) and how health monitoring devices and apps affect habits.

Responses showed that Americans have a different view of themselves and their own evolving purchasing decisions: 54% of all consumers -- and 63% of those age 50-plus -- care more about the healthfulness of their choices than they did in 2010. Taste and price were more important for four in 10 consumers, which may account for the lack of overall change in trend. However, healthfulness was the biggest mover.

Nearly six in 10 Americans who place an emphasis on their overall health when making decisions about what to eat and drink has increased, surpassing the emphasis placed simply on one’s weight (although not by a lot).

“The factors that drive food purchasing decisions have remained quite stable over the past decade, but when you ask consumers themselves how their decision-making compares, more than half say healthfulness matters more to them now,” the report noted.

Dieting rises

While there are fewer Americans making general changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet in 2020 versus what was observed a decade ago, results show that dieting in 2020 rose compared to 2019. In fact, 43% of Americans followed a specific diet or eating pattern in the last year, up from 38% in 2019 and 36% in 2018, with intermittent fasting taking the lead as the most common. Clean eating, last year’s top diet, dropped to second place.

On a scale of zero to 100, where 100 represents an excellent diet, consumers gave themselves an average score of 59 and gave the “average American” a score of 42. Overall, 73% ranked their own score higher than the average American, and only about one in six see themselves as below average.

“This view may be why consumers also see the biggest changes in the average American’s diet over the past decade as being an increase in fast food/eating out and an increase in consumption of processed foods,” the report suggested.

Dietary guidelines

In 2010, the survey found that only 23% of Americans said they knew at least a fair amount about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, while this year, 41% said the same -- an increase of 18 percentage points. Unfortunately, IFIC said there is a huge gap in awareness by health status: 49% in excellent/very good health know at least a fair amount about the guidelines versus  just 29% who are in poorer health. Related to the increase in familiarity with the guidelines, familiarity with the MyPlate graphic has also increased versus 2019.

Plant-based consumption

According to IFIC, consumption of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives has increased over the last year, but three in 10 consumers still report never consuming them. The majority of those who do are in the under age 35 category.

Survey results for this year showed that 28% of the respondents said they are eating more protein from plant sources, 24% are eating more plant-based dairy and 17% are eating more plant-based meat alternatives. Individuals following a specific diet or eating pattern are huge drivers of these numbers: 41% of dieters say they increased their consumption of protein from plant sources (versus 18% of those not following a diet), and 28% say they eat more plant-based meat alternatives (versus 9% not following a diet).

Additional insight was revealed when consumers were asked about a hypothetical comparison of two food products with the same Nutrition Facts Panel label. Forty-three percent said the product that is “plant based” likely would be healthier. This ranked just below “all natural,” with 44% of consumers believing it would be healthier than the alternative, even with the same nutritional information on the packaging.

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