Origin, allergies and plant-based eating among key 2019 themes, finds IFIC consumer survey

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10 Jan 2019 --- US consumers have a growing appetite for more information about their food and technology is enabling eaters like never before, that is according to Joseph Clayton, CEO of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. “It’s also driving transparency across the entire food supply chain,” he notes. US consumers also cite broad aspects such as taste, price and familiarity as the top reasons to purchase foods, while also craving a deeper understanding of what they are eating and where exactly it comes from. They want to learn more about the origins of their food and its entire journey from farm to fork, according to the IFIC Foundation.

“We saw in our 2018 Food and Health Survey that understanding food productions increasingly impacts food purchases,” Megan Meyer, Ph.D., Director, Science Communications at IFIC tells FoodIngredientsFirst

IFIC Foundation predicts that 2019 is set to bring a broader focus on the food journey, greater attention to food safety and allergens, continued consumer concern about sugar and increased popularity of plant-based eating. 

Click to EnlargeIFIC Foundation 2018 Food and Health Survey infographic”Familiarity, also is an important purchase driver for Americans, especially for many older consumers,” Meyer adds.

Plant-based eating trends are also here to stay, according to Meyer, which she cites as being supported by the growth of NPD in plant-based foods and beverages. 

“There was also a record number of food safety outbreaks this year in the US; therefore traceability in regards to food safety is more frequently becoming top of mind for American consumers,” she notes.  

Below is a summary of each of the trends:

Discovering our foods’ origin stories: From seeds planted to crops harvested, to products sold and served, consumers seem to crave a 360-degree picture of what they are eating. Consumer interest and awareness in the origins of their food means that they want to know how their food is produced, where exactly it came from and the quality of the ingredients. They also have broader questions about environmental sustainability and many consumers seek brands that align with their broader social values, says IFIC.     

The 2018 Food and Health Survey revealed that over half of the respondents indicated that recognizing the ingredients, understanding where food is from and the number of ingredients as being key factors that impact purchasing decisions. Interestingly, women were more likely to rate these factors as more significant when compared to men. In addition, compared to 2017, more US consumers cited that understanding how the food is produced altered their decision to buy a particular food or beverage.

Tackling food safety with technology: Tracing the source of food contamination within the supply chain is central to food safety, says IFIC. Food safety concerns dominated the news last year, with two dozen food safety outbreaks investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the highest amount of epidemics in over a decade. 

One technology that has improved rates of traceability is the whole-genome sequencing (WGS) technique. WGS generates the complete DNA sequence of an organism, which allows for the distinction between and among different pathogens. Its resolution is far superior to technologies used in the past; some food safety experts believe WGS-based surveillance is about 100 times better at detecting outbreaks than two decades ago.

Food allergies: actions and reactions: WGS also stands to make positive contributions in the area of food allergens, such as peanuts. Using WGS data from patients with a peanut allergy might help identify peanut allergies in young babies before they can pose life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Additionally, WGS can be used to detect trace amounts of allergens in foods.

Food allergies are also attracting more attention on the regulatory front because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into labeling sesame as an allergen.

IFIC expects these discussions to move closer to center stage in 2019.

There’s no sugar-coating this trend: Sugar is often in the firing line, thanks to its contribution to diabetes and obesity. According to the 2018 Food and Health Survey, more than fat, protein or carbohydrates, sugar is to blame for packing on the extra pounds, with 33 percent believing that it is the calorie source most likely to cause weight gain (up from 20 percent in 2012).

The sweet stuff remains top-of-mind for many US consumers and people are responding to dietary guidance that recommends eating less added sugar. Seventy-seven percent of these consumers say they are taking steps to limit or avoid sugars in their diet and 59 percent view sugars negatively. Moreover, the mandatory compliance date for labeling added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel is now less than a year away (January 1, 2020). Coupling the current negative consumer sentiment on sugars with more information about them being included on food packaging leads us to believe the sugar reduction trend will continue in 2019 and beyond.

As a result, there has been significant growth in low and no-calorie sweeteners, such as the stevia leaf extract and monk fruit sweeteners, thanks to their broad appeal as plant-based alternatives to sugar.

Voracious vegetarians and vegans: Plant-based eating is flourishing in US consumer diets, with sales growing by 20 percent since 2017, a trend that shows few signs of abating. While only 4 percent of Americans identify as vegetarians or vegans, according to the 2018 Food and Health Survey, many others cite following diets that are typically high in veggies, such as paleo (7 percent), low-carb (5 percent), Whole30 (5 percent) and high protein (4 percent). Also, vegetables are the second most popular food or food component people are seeking to provide health benefits (7 percent), behind protein (10 percent). 

This interest in plant-based eating can also be applied to specific macronutrients. For example, in the 2018 Food and Health Survey, nearly 70 percent of US consumers stated that protein from plant sources is healthy, while less than 4 out of 10 consumers report that animal protein is healthy. This trend isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon as sales of plant-based milk alternatives and meat alternatives continue to expand each year, IFIC concludes.

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