Consumers sometimes say one thing, but do another when it comes to healthful choices. This conflict affects their food choices and translates into complex flavor trends which can be difficult to unravel.
How can we unravel the complexity? By considering each layer, then stepping back to observe how they come together.
Layer 1: What causes consumers to say one thing and do another?
1. The first is simple…they lie. Perhaps they are embarrassed or feel guilty about their behavior, or perhaps they anticipate and offer the "correct answers" to please a researcher.
2. The second, more interesting, reason words and actions don’t match is consumer disconnect.
What causes a consumer disconnect? The consumer might be fearful of the consequences of their behavior, so they deny a connection between behavior and consequences. The consumer might be uninformed, or worse yet, misinformed. The might be subconsciously influenced by peers, celebrities, media or social media.
Research reveals a host of consumer disconnects. Here are a few:
- Harvard reported that teens underestimated calories in fast-food meals by 34 percent; parents by 23 percent; adults by 20 percent
- Caravan reported consumers named meat and water as good fiber sources
- University of Nebraska found that 51 percent of parents with overweight or obese children said kids were normal weight while 14 percent of parents with normal-weight kids said kids were underweight
- Monash University found that 50 percent of consumers self-reporting non-celiac gluten sensitivity had no symptoms to justify following a gluten-free diet, 25 percent more showed no improvement with a gluten-free diet
Layer 2: What topics are driving consumer health concerns when it comes to food choices?
The current health drivers for consumers fall into six groups – prevention, control, simplicity, obesity, cognitive function and distrust.
Prevention, which is the desire to delay the onset of disease.
Control is more about what to cut out of the diet and is the cause of certain foods being vilified in the media or by consumers.
Simplicity drives consumers toward unprocessed foods and foods they perceive as “naturally healthy.”
Cognitive functions deal with stress, sleep, memory, depression, energy, focus and relaxation.
The last driver is distrust. Many consumers distrust organic, “natural,” “free from,” sustainability claims and health claims. They buy these items with the hope the food industry isn’t lying to them.
Layer 3: How do consumer behavior and consumer health drivers interact with each other, and help explain which flavor trends are standing in the spotlight for consumers?
Health trends often act as couriers to food trends. Some of the trend families that are born from consumer health trends include the desire for scratch prep, meatless dishes, the snack revolution, global breakfast items, single estate or farm foods, seasonal and local items, and pickled, fermented and foraged foods. Each has a real or perceived health value to consumers and thus is thrust into the spotlight.
Some food trends carried in on health trends include:
- Historical fruit and vegetable varieties such as kale, pumpkin, and coconut
- Unusual vegetables like seaweed, kimchee, and wild greens.
- Buttermilk, burrata, global yogurts, and farmstead cheeses.
- Exotic proteins like beans, wild game, duck, rabbit, skin, insects
- Exteme proteins that harbor an element of danger, like fugu
- "Type A" personality beverages, like culinary cocktails, pressed juice, ancient tea, sipping vinegar, kefir, and kombucha
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef, and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition.