Healthy eating takes lockdown hit: IGD

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

If consumer interest in healthy eating is waning, innovation and reformulation are the solution / Pic: GettyImages
If consumer interest in healthy eating is waning, innovation and reformulation are the solution / Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Health diet sustainable COVID-19 coronavirus

People feel that their diets have got worse during the coronavirus lockdown. And, while more people say health is an important purchase motivator, fewer consumers are going to make healthy changes to their diets, according to IGD data.

IGD recently released results of new research revealing what it described as an ‘appetite from [UK] consumers to be healthier and more sustainable’ in their food choices.

More than 57% of consumers are either considering changing, or already adapting their diets, to be ‘healthier and more sustainable’, the organisation's annual Appetite for Change​ report suggested. This consists of 33% who are already making changes and 24% who are thinking about it.

“Moving people towards healthier and more sustainable diets requires a dietary shift which includes increasing consumption of plant-derived products including fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and plant-based proteins and a reduction in some animal products and foods high in fat, salt and sugar,”​ Hannah Pearse, Head of Nutrition and Scientific Affairs at IGD, told FoodNavigator.

COVID-19 is changing how people think about health

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the role diet plays in our overall health and wellness in the spotlight, Pearse noted.

“We faced significant health and environmental challenges before COVID-19 and the global pandemic has brought these issues into the spotlight. Not only has COVID-19 highlighted our reliance on an effective and efficient food supply chain, but also reinforced that our diets are inextricably linked with our health. Evidence has shown that people living with obesity are 50% more likely to die from COVID-19 and to help combat this, the government has launched a new strategy to reduce obesity,”​ she stressed.

The survey of 1000 UK consumers detected an increase in those who say health is an important purchase motivator. IGD found 63% of people cited health as their primary driver, up from 58% in 2019.

The coronavirus crisis has seen a ‘significant shift’ in the value placed on personal health for parents, with 35% of parents valuing their own health as the primary motivator to eat healthily and sustainably in 2020 compared to 24% in 2019.

In turn, the importance that parents place on their family’s health has fallen to 31% in 2020 from 39% in 2019. IGD analysis suggests this potentially reflects the lesser impact of COVID-19 on children’s health compared to adults.

Health is also a much more important motivator for UK consumers than environmental concerns, IGD found. 

“Our latest stats show that health is a much stronger driver for change than the environment. Some 44% of people are primarily motivated to change for personal health, compared to 13% who are motivated by the environment,”​ Pearse elaborated.

“However, environmental sustainability remains a supporting reason for change, especially for younger consumers (aged 18-24). We know from our research that information alone will not be enough to drive the change required.”

Interestingly, however, the number of people who say they are – or are considering – making healthy changes to their diet is actually down on 2019 levels, when 66% identified themselves as part of this group compared to 57% today.

And the survey suggests this drop is not because people have already acted on the healthy impulses they reported last year. IGD did find there has been a shift in how healthy consumers perceive their diets to be - but the trend has moved in the other direction with people feeling their diets are less healthy during lockdown than in 2019.

Nevertheless, Pearse insisted: "There is still a big opportunity for food and grocery companies to help transition consumers to healthier diets."

Barriers to a healthy and sustainable diet

To capitalise on this opportunity, the food sector needs to understand what’s stopping people from adopting healthier diets.

IGD found the greatest hurdles were price, taste and habit.

The researchers discovered some 38% of consumers perceive healthy and sustainable eating to be more expensive, meaning perceived cost continues to be the biggest barrier to change.

Other issues identified by the survey include people liking the taste of their current food choices (24%), being creatures of habit (23%) and a lack of familiarity with healthier options (17%).

“The two main barriers to eating more healthily and sustainably are that people prefer the taste of their usual diet and that it is perceived to be more expensive, so products that overcome these will help consumers make changes,”​ Pearce suggested.

What is the remedy?

According to the IGD expert, there are a number of strategies food companies can employ to deliver healthier food options while also meeting consumers on their own terms. 

Innovation is an important tool, allowing companies to develop products that meet the organoleptic expectations of consumers in established product formats while also providing excitement and culinary inspiration. 

“Our research tested and identified lots of solutions that companies can adopt. Some of these include products that make healthy and sustainable diets easier and inspiring, for example quick cook grains and pulses and blended meat products,”​ Pearce suggested.

“To do this many tactics will need to be deployed, for example sharing inspirational recipes and changing where products are placed in-store. Meat and dairy alternatives will support some who are making changes but will not be the only solution.”

Alongside innovation in areas like plant-based foods, product renovation and reformulation also has an important part in supporting the shift to healthier diets, according to Pearce.

“The industry needs to take a multi-faceted approach as no single strategy will drive the change required and product reformulation has an important role to play here.”

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