A new study from Nielsen reveals details about consumer food preferences regionally and worldwide. It includes insights about:

  • Food allergies and limitations
  • Consumer demand for foods that are perceived as healthy
  • The desire for transparency
  • Out-of-home dining

Read on for key takeaways, or download a full copy of the report here.

Food sensitivities and limitations affect food preferences

About one-third of people say someone in their household has a food sensitivity or intolerance. Worldwide, the most common allergies are to shellfish and dairy/lactose.

This translates into growth in sales of certain allergen-free foods. Here’s how U.S. sales of “free from” foods grew over the past year:

  • Grain-free products +76%
  • Gluten-free products +10%
  • Nut-free products +15%
  • Lactose-free or reduced lactose products +5%

Globally, 64% of survey participants said they follow a diet that limits or prohibits consumption of some foods or ingredients.

  • In North America, 50% of respondents follow a special diet.
  • In both the global and North American markets, the most common limitations are on fat, sugar, sodium, and carbs.

Among respondents with a food allergy or limitation, only 45% worldwide say current product offerings fully meet their dietary needs. In North America, this percentage rises to 59%.

Consumers want simplicity

Consumers worldwide are leaning toward simple ingredients and fewer artificial or processed foods, primarily because of the perceived impact on health.

More than half of global respondents said they try to avoid the following:

  • BPA packaging
  • GMOs
  • Antibiotics or hormones in animal products
  • Artificial flavors, preservatives, colors, and sweeteners

And 68% say they’re willing to pay more for foods that don’t contain undesirable ingredients. Product sales in the U.S. reinforce these food preferences. Over the past year, “clean” foods have experienced substantial growth.

  • Free of hormones or antibiotics +22%
  • Organic +13%
  • GMO-free +12%
  • Natural +8%
  • Free of artificial colors or flavors +5%
  • Free of high-fructose corn syrup +3%
  • MSG-free +2%

Consumers also want transparency

People want to know where their food comes from and what’s in it, and they look favorably on companies that provide this information. Both in North America and worldwide, the majority of people agree with the following statements:

  • I feel more positively about companies that are transparent about where and how products were made/raised/grown.
  • I want to know everything that is going into my food.
  • The shorter the ingredient list, the more healthful the food or beverage.

People still like to indulge, even as they focus on health

Even though health is important, people still like to indulge, especially if there are perceived health benefits associated with certain “indulgent” products. For example, cheese sales are growing in most of the markets included in the study.

In the U.S., traditionally indulgent products with wellness claims are seeing bigger sales growth than their overall categories. For instance, in the past year U.S. sales of natural or organic salty snacks grew 6% and 23%, respectively, while total salty snack growth was just 2.6%.

For more research on what consumers want, check out our Trends Archive.