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Taste continues to have the most influence over food purchasing decisions this year, according to the 19th annual Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). But price is a close second — 76% of the 3,000 surveyed Americans say price is their most significant purchase driver, while 85% cite taste. 

Healthfulness ranks third, with 62% marking this as an important purchase motivator. However, healthfulness becomes more influential as income increases, overtaking price as a key factor for households with incomes exceeding $100,000. This suggests a growing market for premium, health-focused products among higher-income consumers.

Consumers prioritize health while dealing with stress

The survey reveals a concerning rise in stress levels among Americans, with 64% reporting feeling stressed (up from 60% in 2023), primarily due to financial concerns. And stress is linked with dietary choices, with 51% of stressed individuals reporting consuming less healthy foods and beverages. Developing products that cater to the needs of stressed consumers, such as products that are both convenient and nutritious, may help consumers make healthier choices under stress.

Many consumers are making conscious efforts to improve their overall health and wellbeing, including: 

  • Broadening health goals: Over half of Americans (54%) report following a specific eating pattern or diet in the past year, with high-protein (20%) and mindful eating (18%) being the most popular. Interestingly, the primary motivation for following a diet is shifting from weight loss (43%) to overall wellbeing and energy levels (45%). 
  • Avoiding processed foods: A significant 79% of consumers consider whether a food is processed before purchasing, and 63% actively avoid processed foods at least sometimes. However, only a third are familiar with the term “ultra-processed,” indicating a need for clearer labeling and consumer education regarding processed foods.
  • Reducing sugar intake: The survey highlights a strong consumer desire for sugar reduction, with 66% actively trying to limit their sugar consumption. The primary motivation behind this is to improve overall diet quality (49%). This trend presents a significant opportunity for food manufacturers to innovate and develop products with reduced sugar content or healthier alternatives.
  • Indulging in snacks: Snacking remains a prevalent behavior, with 73% of Americans snacking at least once a day. The top reasons for snacking are hunger and thirst (43%), but the desire for treats (30%) and sweet snacks (24%) also plays a significant role. This highlights a continued demand for both healthy and indulgent snack options.
  • Pursuing plant-based: The adoption of plant-based/vegan/vegetarian diets is primarily driven by health concerns (55%), a preference for these types of foods (38%), and improving animal welfare (33%). 

Concerns surrounding food safety, sustainability

Overall confidence in the U.S. food supply has declined to 62% (down from 70% in 2023), with issues surrounding carcinogens (52%), foodborne illness (47%), and pesticides (46%) ranked as most important. Continued transparency and rigorous safety measures in food production will be essential to rebuild and maintain consumer trust.

In addition, there’s a growing demand for transparent and eco-friendly practices in the food industry to create sustainable food systems. When deciding what products to buy, many consumers consider the consistent availability of food in local markets (56%), whether the food is bioengineered or contains bioengineered ingredients (52%), animal welfare factors (51%), and the fair and equitable treatment of workers in the food production process (46%). 

Social media, AI inform food choices

The impact of social media on food choices is growing, with 54% of Americans viewing food and nutrition content on these platforms (up from 42%), and 68% of those trusting the content they see. For food brands to reach these consumers, they’ll need a strong social media presence and engagement strategy.

More than half (51%) of consumers are also interested in using AI to help them make healthier food choices, indicating a potential avenue for innovative technology-driven solutions in the food industry.

By understanding and adapting to these trends, food industry leaders can make informed decisions to drive innovation, enhance brand reputation, and ultimately achieve sustainable growth in a dynamic market. See the full report for more insights. 

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