Natalie Drake and Chris Whiting, Category Managers at Synergy Flavours, predict how buying behaviours will evolve as a result of the global pandemic and its impact
COVID-19 and its impact on the world has led to major adjustments. Even though restrictions are now easing, many consumers are still wary of the pandemic, with previously unheard-of notions such as wearing a mask to go shopping or one-way systems in supermarket aisles, becoming the “new normal.”
One of the biggest changes has been the way that consumers shop for food, with online sales rocketing and queues outside supermarkets becoming a familiar sight.
However, during the last recession, consumers spent more on in-home food and the opportunity for food manufacturers to adapt their offerings to appeal to the consumer of the future means innovation continues apace.
With the new recession expected to hit hard and for a prolonged period, Synergy Flavours gives its predictions for what the food and beverage consumer of the future might be looking for and how this will affect the nutraceuticals and sports nutrition categories.
With the earlier lockdowns ensuring that people were kept indoors, plus concerns about catching the virus, it’s likely that many people will focus more on their physical and mental health. High percentages of consumers name the health of their family and friends, as well as their own physical welfare, as top concerns — with 71% of Britons admitting that their family’s health is their top concern amid the pandemic.1
This is also the case in Italy where the enforced lockdown meant that many viewed their physical well-being with renewed concern; a lack of exercise (55%), gaining weight (52%) and eating unhealthily (27%) were named as the three primary concerns for Italians owing to the implications of COVID-19. These results demonstrate an increased desire to maintain a balanced diet whilst restrictions remain in place.
Comfort food has played its part during the pandemic, but we can expect consumers to look for healthier options to improve their overall health as things slowly return to normal. Reduced fat and sugar products may be set to overtake treats such as cookies and cakes, and many consumers will be looking towards vitamin-rich foods to improve their diet.
In Asia, we have already seen evidence of this as there has been an increase in the sales of food and drink products perceived to be healthy (such as fresh food, bottled water and dairy) and a drop in sales of typically unhealthy options, such as alcohol or snacks.2
Although consumers are taking a real interest in their immunity and how their diet might impact their immune system, there has been limited and conflicting evidence to suggest that specific foods can help to boost immunity, with nutritionists and medical professionals suggesting that a more balanced diet is the best approach.
Gut health is one area in which we are seeing increasing links being made with holistic health and immunity. This is partly evident in the fact that sales of kefir products jumped by almost 50% in the 4 weeks before lockdown started in the UK.3
With a renewed focus on holistic approaches, some consumers are looking beyond gut health and considering other natural sources that offer perceived health benefits; 72% of consumers have expressed an interest in nutrition products that contain “health-boosting” herbs and botanicals.
Ingredients such as these have roots in Chinese medicine, where spices and herbs such as turmeric have long been used to treat common ailments and symptoms with the belief that naturally sourced products would deliver medicinal benefits. We also saw the same increase in demand for gut health products in China when the pandemic first started.
In addition to this, we are also seeing a growing interest globally in vitamin and mineral supplementation either through capsules or food and drink fortification. Thus, manufacturers are likely to expand their fortified and enriched food and beverage lines that appeal to health-conscious consumers while, at the same time, offering value for money.
The rise of the home workout has prompted a shift in consumer interest in keeping fit, as well as maintaining a healthy diet. Joe Wicks, “The Body Coach,” led the UK’s physical exercise lessons throughout most of lockdown and, although that interest waned somewhat as lockdown fatigue set in (Google searches peaked in the week commencing 22 March), Google searches for Joe Wicks remain at least three times as high as pre-lockdown levels.4
Furthermore, global fitness brand Les Mills has seen a 900% increase in sign-ups to its online platform as people choose to improve their fitness during lockdown.5
As a result, we can expect to see the already popular sports nutrition market grow further as mainstream consumers begin to better understand the role of nutrition in fitness and performance. With all this evidence pointing towards a growing interest in fitness at home, what does this mean for the sports nutrition category?
Although gyms are beginning to reopen, many consumers remain nervous about returning, meaning the process may be slower than hoped for. As a result, we can expect to see a slow pick up in the core category of ready-to-mix protein powders as gym users start to return to new normal routine. Parallel to this, we have seen a rise in adjacent sports nutrition categories such as complete nutrition products and/or vitamin and mineral supplements.
The psychological impact of COVID-19 will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect, so the likelihood is that both of those product categories will continue to thrive; and, to appeal to broad demographics, manufacturers should look to combine multiple categories into all-in-one products.
Continuing to offer protein fortified products in mainstream formats, such as ready-to-drinks and snacks, will remain a relevant way of introducing new consumers to the category.
Although COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has definitely caused a shift in consumers priorities, by staying agile and embracing change through new flavours and formats, there is room for sports nutrition brands to continue the category’s growth.
The food industry is set to see a shift in consumer buying habits — from the way consumers conduct their shopping to the importance they place on certain food and beverage products when shopping.
As a result, food and beverage manufacturers have new opportunities to develop innovative products to meet changing demands, which will continue to evolve for some time. There is no going back to pre-COVID markets and therefore it’s important for the whole industry to invest in catering to the consumer of tomorrow.