THE PERSPECTIVE OF...
CONSUMERS ARE INCREASINGLY CONSCIOUS OF THE WAY THEY SHOP AND EAT!
Karin Perrot, Senior Manager,
Brand strategy, Kantar Division Insights
Brand strategy, Kantar Division Insights
You are in contact with consumers in France and across the world. What are they telling you at the moment?
With everything that is going on – worsening climate change, the recent geopolitical crisis coupled with the ongoing pandemic and inflation running at levels not seen for many years – concerns about the cost of living and the price of products have returned to centre stage. However, this has not called into question either the new awareness or the fundamental expectations of consumers that emerged so strongly two years ago. In this uncertain global context, they remain as convinced as ever that what they eat shapes the world of the future: for themselves, their friends and their families, for everyone on earth and beyond that for all the species that share our planet. And these new eating habits are here to stay!
What is this “new way of eating” that is not only taking hold but growing in popularity?
Most consumers (70%) say they want to buy healthy products that are free from additives. They continue to pay attention to the ingredients list, and they are looking for products that are simple and natural. More than 60% of consumers see eating as part of their civic and social engagement and believe that food should be “appropriate” in terms of both its health and environmental impact. Reducing packaging remains a constant focus, and a product’s carbon footprint is becoming a purchasing criterion. But consumers are still not prepared to sacrifice pleasure for the sake of these new expectations – quite the opposite in fact! At this stressful time, food has regained one of its essential functions: we are actually putting a bit more of a focus on enjoying what we eat. 30 to 50% of people in Europe, and 60 to 70% in Asia, say that during and since the pandemic they have enjoyed indulgent, comforting food more often, even if it is a little too high in fat, sugar or salt
Is this vision of food choices as a “civic engagement” shared and/or growing worldwide?
Yes. This major shift in food choices, looking to healthy, local food and paying more attention to ingredients and our environmental impact was first seen in 2018-2020 in Europe, where it now seems to have plateaued as people have a fairly mature understanding of these topics. In the US, which along with the UK was lagging other countries in terms of awareness, the change in consumer attitudes has accelerated as regards health, diet and the environment, and attention to ingredients, with food scanner apps rapidly gaining popularity in early 2022. In the Middle East and Asia, and in particular China where health and environmental awareness is developing rapidly, more and more consumers are turning to healthy, environmentally friendly and local products.
With this new focus, how is the food industry seen?
More than 80% of consumers acknowledge that the food industry has worked to increase the general quality of food over the last two years. In France and the USA, two major agricultural countries, the efforts made by both crop and livestock farmers have been strongly highlighted. The pandemic reaffirmed their essential role, and their views really are taken into account. Nevertheless, consumers still expect the entire industry to do more, in particular as regards two hot and closely connected topics: cutting carbon footprints and reducing plastics.
What innovations and environmental progress do consumers most want to see from the food industry?
In 2022, taste and health remain the two key drivers of innovation in food worldwide. But what is striking is that ethics now takes third place. This issue has constantly grown in importance over the last five years, whereas ten years ago it was marginal or practically non-existent. It is in fact mainly a function of the focus on the environment, something that is gradually becoming one of the main long-term concerns expressed by consumers. Alongside the organic movement, which for many years was the main signpost to ecologically responsible choices but is now plateauing, sustainable products are sold on a platform of specific arguments that stem directly from sustainability challenges, key among which are cutting our carbon footprint, paying producers fairly, eating local (short supply chains and seasonal products) and reducing waste (in both packaging and the product itself). Looking at the emotional and story-telling angle, we can see a resurgence of references to “natural” origins, and a general focus on an agricultural model that benefits all parties, based on responsible practices like regenerative agriculture.
Is the inflation that we mentioned at the beginning of this interview not pushing consumers to make trade-offs and different purchasing decisions? And will it in the future?
Consumers are always contradictory – they want everything at once. They are not prepared to compromise pleasure to eat healthily, or to eat ethically. Recent events have brought to the fore fundamental questions about what is genuinely important, the “meaning of life” and our relationship with nature. They still expect the products they buy to meet what has become a standard (“good for me, good for the planet!”). With concerns over the soaring cost of living, they will no doubt focus increasingly closely on value in the sense of the benefit(s) provided for the price asked. In terms of the food transition, they will therefore be looking to understand what brands and chains are concretely doing to help them shop and eat better. It is more crucial than ever to communicate meaning and value!