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The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2019 Food and Health Survey show heightened interest in plant-based eating, sustainability claims’ varying impact on purchasing decisions, confusion surrounding food and nutrition terms, and more.

Factors driving food purchases

Survey respondents said these factors are important when filling their grocery carts:

  • Taste: 86%
  • Trust in the brand: 70%
  • Price: 68%
  • Recognizing the ingredients that go into the product: 63%
  • Healthfulness: 62%
  • Convenience: 57%
  • Environmental sustainability: 27%

The sustainability conundrum

The environmental sustainability factor, while still a powerful influencer with nearly a third of customers, shed a few percentage points from last year when it was hovering in the high 30s.

Why? Many consumers (63%) have a hard time knowing whether the food choices they’re making are environmentally sustainable.

Despite the confusion surrounding environmental sustainability, the findings still show that people are interested in — and aim to recognize — the topic. Just over half of respondents said that it’s at least somewhat important that the products they buy be produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

Diets and eating patterns

Taking into consideration consumers’ laser focus on health and wellness, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that IFIC found that 38% of their respondents follow a specific diet.

“Consumers are continuing to seek out diets that align with their personal values while joining communities of other Americans adopting similar habits,” explains Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, VP for Research and Partnerships at the IFIC Foundation.

Here are the most widely cited diets by the numbers:

  • Clean eating: 10%
  • Intermittent fasting: 9%
  • Gluten-free: 6%
  • Low-carb: 6%
  • Ketogenic: 6% (up from 3% in 2018)

Plant-based diets are gaining traction too.

  • Heard of plant-based diets: 73%
  • Interested in learning more about a plant-based diet: 51%
  • Following a plant-based diet: 5%

However, when asked what a plant-based diet entails, definitions varied widely, suggesting lack of understanding on the topic.

Whole30 and paleo have dropped in popularity significantly, suggesting those ways of eating may meet the same fate as the Atkins diet.

Food industry concepts

Plant-based eating and environmental sustainability aren’t the only ideas misunderstood by consumers. A number of critical food terms remain a mystery to many, but younger people seem to have a better grasp.

Term: “Nutrient-density”

  • Age 18-34: 34% understand it
  • Age 65+: 9% understand it

Term: “Regenerative agriculture”

  • Age 18-34: 34% understand it
  • Age 65+: 13% understand it

More findings from the survey

This survey covers topics all the way from dieting motivators to grocery shopping habits. Here are a few more snippets of info:

  • 34% eat plant-based protein each day
  • 25% snack multiple times a day
  • 23% seek out health benefits from food
  • 45% say a government agency would be their top source for information about a recall

IFIC’s findings suggest that many food trends that have emerged in the past few years, for example, sustainability, snacking, and healthfulness, are proving to have staying power and will continue shaping the food industry landscape.

Further, the survey responses reveal a significant knowledge gap in some key areas. As such, food companies have a compelling reason — and perhaps even a corporate responsibility — to boost education, sustainability, and transparency initiatives that will drive consumers towards making informed purchasing decisions.

Download the full survey here.

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