The impact of consumer behaviour on the future of food production.

consumer behavior and food production
Image of the post author Geetika Chhatwal

Clean eating profoundly impacts food production as consumers worldwide gravitate toward healthier, cleaner foods.

In 2022, the global health and wellness food market was valued at USD 841 billion and is projected to increase to one trillion U.S. dollars by 2026.

What is clean eating?

Clean eating might have various interpretations for consumers, but it generally refers to eating whole foods as close to their natural state. Consumers that opt for clean eating usually prefer making their meals from scratch. For food and beverage companies, this means using suppliers who cultivate high-quality ingredients and organic farming. These typically come from smaller productions, which means higher prices for consumers.

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Consumers want to eat healthily, but the price is an obstacle.

The pandemic has put health at the forefront and changed our relationship with food. Consumers want to eat healthier, and this has been the most significant lifestyle change in recent years, followed by working out more often.

With the impending recession and high inflation rates, spending less money is also a priority. 

Consumers are looking for “farm-to-table” foods, and the buzzwords are healthy foods that are accessible. These consumers want to know what is in their food and where it comes from. 

Health and wellness factor heavily in purchasing decisions, and food production brands adapt to the trend. Protein-rich foods and superfoods with high antioxidant values are foods that more health-conscious consumers prefer today.

Superfoods refer to nutritionally dense foods or foods that are exceptionally high in vital nutrients. Some commonly regarded superfoods are salmon, kale, blueberries, chia seeds, acai, and quinoa. 

Statista states that between 2016 and 2017, retail sales of quinoa grew by 15.6 percent in the United States as its health benefits became more well-known. Chia seeds witnessed a 14.7 percent increase in retail sales during the same time. 

Consumers are discerning what foods they put in their bodies with increasing awareness about the harmful effects of preservatives and rampant chronic diseases. While there was already a slow rise in this awareness, the pandemic accelerated the shift. For today’s consumers, it is also essential to trace where the product is from. In terms of dairy, vegetables, meat, and fruits, “locally grown or sourced” is gaining significance. 

According to a survey, in 2022, 52 percent of respondents surveyed reported following a specific diet, a sharp increase from 39 percent in the previous year. Amongst those who followed a diet or plan, clean eating (16 percent) was the most popular, followed closely by mindful eating (being intentional and aware when eating) and calorie counting. 

Superior quality, organic foods, and ethical farming practices

From farm-raised over wild-caught seafood to cage-free eggs and non-GMO grass-fed beef, consumers are looking for high-quality ingredients and slowly moving away from pesticide-ridden, low-quality GMO foods. 

The global sales of organic food have risen between 2000 and 2020. In 2020, organic food sales amounted to about USD 120.65 billion, up from nearly USD 18 billion in 2000.

Organic food can vary wildly depending on the nation and certifying agency, but it frequently means crops grown without genetic modifications, artificial pesticides, or harmful fertilizers. Organic meat, dairy, and eggs require animals to be provided organic feed, given sufficient time outdoors, and not be fed growth hormones or fillers. 

In 2019, organic food sales amounted to USD 106 billion, up from nearly USD 15 billion in 1999. The United States accounts for over 40 percent of the retail sales of organic food worldwide, followed by Germany. 

According to the same report, in 2019, there were approximately 72 million hectares of organic farmland worldwide. There were more than one million organic food producers in India, which amounts to at least five times more producers than in any other country.

Ethical farming, manufacturing/ production, and distribution practices are essential to purchase considerations for many buyers. Slave trade, animal cruelty, and environmentally safe farming practices are encouraged. Many consumers won’t buy products that they know follow these inhumane and anti-environment practices.

All this comes at a high cost, and most consumers won’t pay the higher prices for organic foods, even though they would like to. 

Plant-based foods

While veganism, a diet that eliminates all meat and animal-derived foods, is still a lifestyle followed by very few consumers, there is continued demand for plant-based foods worldwide. 

Plant-based meat alternatives include food products from vegetarian or vegan sources, such as soy, vegetables, seitan, tempeh, or pea proteins. 

The percentage of vegans differs by country. With a 9 percent vegan population, India is the leading nation by share of vegans. In the U.K., their percentage is less than 2 percent, but in the U.S., it is closer to 6 percent.

In 2021, Beyond Meat was the leading company producing alternative protein products, such as plant-based meat, with an estimated market value of USD 9 billion. The company offers burger patties, among other alternative meat products. Impossible Foods, which ranks second, is a direct competitor in this market. Brands with plant proteins, dairy alternatives, and meat and seafood substitutes attract Venture Capitalists and are amongst the most funded start-ups in many markets. 

According to a report, in 2020, the global market value of plant-based meat was estimated to be around USD 6.7 billion. The market is expected to continue its growth and will reach about USD 16.7 billion in 2026. With a share of 44 percent, North America, has the largest market share in the plant-based meat market, followed by Europe, at about 34 percent. 

Vegan and plant-based foods are becoming popular with the meat-eating population as well. Non-vegans regularly consume many types of meat and dairy substitutes. Impossible Foods is one of the world’s most prominent alternative protein companies. The global vegan market is valued at USD 15.8 billion, and the global plant-based food market is valued at USD 35.6 billion. The milk substitute market alone is valued at USD 19.5 billion. China and the U.S. are the largest milk alternatives markets and together account for USD 12 billion of the total global revenue. 

The global plant-based food market will reach USD 77.8 billion in 2025, and the forecast projects that by 2030 the market will have more than doubled. 

Contribution to a greener, more sustainable world

Consumers are looking to make more significant contributions toward a sustainable and green future, especially for younger generations, like Millennials and Zoomers. 

Today’s consumers are more conscious of how they consume products and are more aware of enterprises’ impact on the ecosystem. Many consumers will stop using brands that are not environmentally friendly and will favour those that are and move their loyalty toward them. Sustainability is not restricted to just the environment and includes ethical practices and humane conditions. Packaging and reducing carbon emissions are a huge part of sustainability. 

Numerous big brands have incorporated sustainability into their corporate social responsibility frameworks. Many large fast-food chains have joined the climate movement, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, a US-based fast-casual chain, is an excellent example. Besides introducing eco-friendly packaging and measures to reduce waste, the brand went a step ahead. It launched a ‘sustainability tracker’ to provide data on the environmental impact of all its ingredients. Chipotle diners now receive data on five environmental metrics on their order confirmation screen, showing carbon in the atmosphere, gallons of water saved, improved soil health, organic land supported, and antibiotics avoided. 

For sustainability to happen, technology is a critical piece that can allow companies to forecast, monitor quality, and improve processes and packaging, to name a few. Factors like natural resources, labour, climate, and air quality are also important. 

With this new wave of the conscious shopper, many brands need to rethink their business operations for a complete rehaul. 

It is worth noting that it is a challenging change as brands grapple with offering better, cleaner foods at affordable prices.  

While consumers are more aware now, can they eat as healthy as they would like, given the inflation rate and higher prices for organic, clean foods?

With the current inflation rates, consumers find even regular food choices expensive. So everything comes down to value for the consumers. If your brand fails to show the consumer enough value, they will move to a less expensive option. So brands must be proactive in delivering value to the consumers to retain them. The good news is that even though we are in a supply-driven inflationary market, employment levels remain healthy. Currently, consumers absorb rising prices by reallocating their budgets toward priority areas. However, the imminent recession will impact purchasing power, so brands need to think ahead.  

For a more in-depth look at the Food and Beverage industry, download our report, “Food and Beverage Trends to Watch in 2022.”