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Shifting priorities

Three big insights on how Canadians are approaching healthy eating

Canadians’ focus on healthy eating has been a top priority for years and consumers have capitalize on the wealth of available health information. Today, consumers often view their health choices as an extension of their values and beliefs.

But how do consumers define what is healthy to eat or drink? The answer to this question has evolved over the years from individuals solely focused on specific nutrients for nourishment to re-evaluating and elevating their understanding of mind and body benefits—for example, energy, mind or sleep. In addition, the pandemic has brought to the forefront lifestyle concerns and work-life balance demands, with big issues such as environmental safety, polarizing political views and climate change seeming inescapable at times. And according to Ipsos’ latest Canada CHATS 2022 Trends Report, one-in-five food and beverage choices made by consumers is motivated by the need for something healthy and nutritious. In fact, demand for healthy options is up more than seven percentage points, when compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 period.

To better understand consumers’ approaches to healthy eating, here are three big health insights from this year’s Trends Report:

1. The broader shift toward holistic health doesn’t negate the importance of nutrient density

With almost two-thirds of adults (64%) reporting to always or regularly consult on-package product information, the evaluation of quantities of specific nutrients (good and bad) continues to be table stakes for brands that wish to position themselves as relevant to consumers and their health aspirations.

Top food labels such as Made in Canada, Best Before (date), All Natural, No Artificial Additives or Ingredients and Low Sugar, reflect consumers’ demand for details related to product sourcing, freshness and pureness. And according to the report, the fastest-rising food labels of importance reveal that consumers are prioritizing organic, protein and local sourcing.

2. Quest for benefits

Focusing on benefits that aid current well-being, future condition management, and prevention is a tremendous opportunity for innovation. More than a third of consumers (36%) report to have a dietary restriction or sensitivity that impacts their food and drink choices. Further, a rising share of food and beverage items (+10% versus 2019) are selected because they provide a specific mind-body benefit; this is led by weight control, digestive health, immunity support and augmenting mental focus and concentration demands.

Opportunities abound for companies that possess the knowledge and nimbleness to communicate ingredient health benefits and help consumers be at their best.

3. Re-prioritizing customized eating regimes

As consumers embrace information and the technologies that help them set and track personal goals, there will continue to be more adherence to specialized diets and personalized eating regimes. In fact, close to one-in-three adults (30%) report to follow diets—such as vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan, pescatarian and reduced-calorie regimes—that support lifestyle needs, goals and beliefs.

And rising demand for plant-based protein options are strongly developed among both females and younger cohorts between the ages of 18 to 34 years old. Whether consumers’ focus is on replacing or reducing their intake of meat products, rising interest in plant-based products will undoubtedly play a large role in the future of protein consumption.

Other shifting habits are being fuelled by “eating clean” demands. These include more cooking at home and keeping well-stocked pantries. These behaviours provide consumers with a degree of control and on-hand choice to thwart impulsive decisions. In fact, beyond the cost savings, more than half of meal preparers (52%) report that they cook at home because it is healthier.

Consumers’ interest and involvement in their daily food choices presents a unique opportunity for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice operators to communicate nutrition benefits, curate specific dietary options and delight consumers with fresh, authentic and less processed product offerings that meet both Canadians’ cultural need for foods that can be discovered and shared, as well as fit into the holistic health framework. 

This column appeared in Canadian Grocer's March/April 2022 issue.

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