Chicken salad with roasted vegetables and mixed greens

Ninety-three percent of consumers want to eat healthy at least some of the time, with 63% trying to eat healthy most or all of the time. Those findings are from L.E.K. Consulting’s 2018 food and beverage survey of almost 1,600 consumers. The survey asked about attitudes and preferences toward healthy, sustainable foods and beverages.

L.E.K.’s report came to three main conclusions:

  1. Consumers look for nuanced claims that communicate specific attributes related to health and wellness, ethics, and the environment.
  2. Consumers want their food to have an increasingly wide range of benefits.
  3. Consumers will pay more for food that delivers the benefits it claims.

A look at food claims

Looking at five categories of attributes — natural, ethical, enhanced, less of…, and alternative dietary lifestyle — the survey found almost 75% of consumers committed to one or more attribute when choosing foods. This commitment shows up in all age groups, although Millennials lead the way.

Figure 1: Food Claims, Source: L.E.K Consulting

Changing attitudes toward food claims

The 2018 survey saw a change from previous years in how many attributes consumers want from food. Previously, consumer interest clustered around a few on-trend claims. However, this latest survey found consumers were committed or occasional supporters of almost 12 health and wellness claims — up 20% from the 2016 survey.

The survey also revealed that the kinds of expected attributes have changed. In earlier surveys, consumers were more likely to look for “less of…”  — claims often related to managing weight, such as sugar free, fat free, low salt, low carb, or low calorie. Consumer expectations then began shifting to attributes related to health and wellness.

The latest results show that most consumers want all-natural and organic foods at least some of the time. However, the most in-demand foods are those without artificial ingredients and preservatives. L.E.K. interprets this specific finding as reflecting consumers’ growing desire to look beyond general all-natural claims and understand the specifics of the food purchased. The lack of official FDA definitions of terms such as natural may be driving consumers to decide for themselves what they prefer in (or not in) their foods, according to L.E.K.

L.E.K. believes the next version of consumer health claims includes clean labels and sustainability. “Interestingly, ‘clean label’ means no artificial ingredients or preservatives — the two most sought-after claims in our survey, even though the term itself does not particularly resonate among this year’s survey respondents,” states L.E.K.  

The bottom line is that consumers increasingly pay attention to these newer claims, with declining interest in the older claims. This shift is reflected in the 2018 survey finding that 60% to 70% of consumers, up 10 percentage points from 2016, will pay premium prices for natural, ethical, enhanced, or “less of …” foods. Among committed consumers, 73% to 86% will pay extra, an increase of 15 to 20 percentage points from 2016.

Healthy eating here to stay?

Healthy eating has become mainstream, with most consumers expecting foods and beverages that meet increasingly nuanced attributes of health and wellness, ethics, and sustainability. “What hasn’t changed is consumers’ delight in products that are indulgent and delicious — with quality ingredients supplanting processed, nutritionally empty ones,” states L.E.K. “The intersection of these desires is where superior pricing and profits await the brands that are paying attention.”

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