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Pandemic Eating Habits Beget a Weird Juxtaposition of Consumer Demands

Theresa "Sam" Houghton
November 23, 2020

Good Monday, fellow nerds! ☔ We’re heading into the week of Thanksgiving, so here’s to a happy and healthy one for all my U.S. readers no matter what your plans. 🙌🏻

The news this week is just as bizarre as the current world circumstances — a juxtaposition of pursuing health while hunkered down at home and venturing out in search of something to fulfill personal appetites. 🏡🍨 Let’s dive in!

Consumers Demand Healthier Ingredients…and More Fat? 🤔

According to flavor technology company Comax Flavors, these are some of the biggest trends for food and flavor coming in 2021:

  • Immunity-boosting foods and ingredients
  • A continued interest in home baking
  • A search for quick and convenient at-home breakfast options

The truly weird thing about this is, while 60% of consumers around the world are on the lookout for snacks and meals that support robust immune systems, consumers in general are also reaching for less healthy snacks. “Stress baking” became a thing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues as people search for a happy medium between convenience and comfort. (And apparently eat a lot of banana bread 🍌🍞 and pizza. 🍕)

The ongoing quest is sparking a huge boost in the global market for functional foods and ingredients. Market value is expected to reach $117 billion by 2027, and even giants like Cargill are getting in on the game with new business divisions devoted specifically to meeting this consumer demand.

But at the same time the interest in health continues to grow, young consumers are demanding more fat. 🤷🏻‍♀️ It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s driving the trend, but it appears to be due at least in part to continued confusion over the nature of carbohydrates, the push to eliminate added sugars and the persistence of paleo and keto diets.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

We’re All Eating At Home More (Until We’re Not)

A Moody’s report released at the end of October showed the likelihood of a trend away from eating at home as 2021 unfolds. Although the projection points to a reduction in the sales of staples that many consumers stocked up on in a wave of panic buying in the spring of 2020, 🛒🥫 overall sales are expected to stay solid.

More than four out of five consumers report changes in the way they’re “cooking, consuming, buying and thinking about food” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A rush to secure staple pantry items drove people back toward the very processed foods many had been trying to avoid, and the coming holiday season is likely to see a continuation of this trend. 🦃🎅🏻

It all comes down to familiarity and comfort. People are eating as a form of anxiety relief, and they’re reaching for foods and home-cooked dishes that bring back good memories of past holidays. 🎄 As CPG brands seek to balance sales of these foods with innovating new products, there’s an opportunity for startups in the plant-based space to establish themselves as the new “go to“ for the holidays and beyond.

With 66% of consumers fearing an “epic cooking fail” during holidays, plant-based brands have the opportunity to show how easy it is to incorporate their products into traditional meals. It may be time to take a page out of bigger brands’ books and come alongside consumers with accessible education.

The Plant-Based Meat 🌿🥩 Market is Stepping Up to Fill Demanding Stomachs

Some of the at-home eating we’re doing is takeout, and an increasing amount of it is vegan takeout. Delivery platform Deliveroo has seen global double-digit growth in vegan orders, including:

  • 115% in the U.K.
  • 100% in Hong Kong
  • 60% in Singapore

It points to the continued interest in meat-free meals and is part of what’s driving the huge demand for plant-based meat alternatives. Pork is the next frontier in this fast-growing market—as the rise of OmniPork has made increasingly clear. 🐷

Big companies like Marks &  Spencer are latching onto the overall trend toward meat reduction and forming strategic partnerships with biotech companies to leverage up-and-coming technology (think fermentation) and develop products centered around novel proteins, including mycoprotein. 🍄

From a business perspective, it’s a race to capitalize on both consumer interest and the growing concern surrounding sustainability and waste. For consumers, choices focus more on who can provide the most “realistic“ taste and texture when compared to animal meat.

Honestly, all of this leads me to wonder a bit about the recent shift in the plant-based narrative. 🤔 Not so long ago, the resounding refrain was that we eat too much meat as a society, and the best way to help everyone (and improve health) was to shift toward whole plant foods.

Now the focus seems to be much more on how to get enough protein out of our current food system to feed a growing population. But are we really just feeding a growing taste for meat? 🍗🍖🥓

I touched on this topic briefly when I interviewed vegan registered dietitian Mark Rifkin on The Modern Health Nerd podcast, and I plan to delve into it more deeply in the near future.

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