Balancing health with price: six ways food and beverage innovation is evolving in the COVID-19 era

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Gut health plant based health & wellbeing staple food

ADM has identified six emerging behavioral changes that will power innovation and growth in the months ahead.

Consumer attitudes, priorities and behaviors are all shifting significantly, according to food and ingredients giant ADM, a fact which is providing a unique opportunity for forward-looking food and beverage companies to bring a suite of trailblazing new products to market.

The most obvious shift among shoppers is a desire to improve their health and build their immunity. Recent ADM OutsideVoice research showed that 77% of consumers intend to make more attempts to stay healthy in the future. But healthy living tends to come at a premium. How does this fact sit as most global markets hurtle towards economic recession? Food and beverage manufacturers who successfully balance consumer health concerns with affordability are most likely to win with consumers, according to ADM. Here are more trends it has identified.

1)      More focus on gut health and immune function connection

ADM said 57% of consumers report being more concerned about their immunity as a result of COVID-19. According to Ana Ferrell, VP & Head of Marketing, North America, as consumers strive to enhance their immunity, they are becoming more knowledgeable about how the human microbiome supports the immune system and overall health. Products containing probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics can all benefit the microbiome, and are already gaining momentum in the marketplace, she told FoodNavigator.

“Consumers are understandably scrutinizing their overall health and wellbeing and making lifestyle improvements they believe will safeguard their bodies’ defences against illness and disease,”​ she said.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that underlying health conditions like obesity and diabetes can result in more negative health outcomes for individuals who have contracted the coronavirus, and this is driving greater interest in the health and wellness movement.”

GettyImages-Palina Charnova
Interest in the relationship between gut health and overall health in rising Getty/Palina Charnova

Microbiome science is, however, advancing at a rapid clip. In what way are consumers becoming more knowledgeable about how the human microbiome supports the immune system? What’s the science telling them exactly?

“The human body is home to microorganisms that play an important role in regular bodily functions such as digestion,” ​responded Ferrell. “Today, there is a lot of interest in the microbiome as researchers seek to better understand the interactions between the immune system and gut bacteria. Findings have led us to believe that there is an intrinsic link that may hold the key to new opportunities for functional ingredients that deliver a range of health and wellness benefits.”

Probiotics can be challenging to formulate with in foods and beverages, however, since they often don’t retain their activity after processing. ADM said it has intentionally evolved its portfolio to provide a range of microbiome solutions that are suitable for virtually any application.

For example, BPL 1, is available as a live bacterial strain and as a heat-treated form (a form that is sometimes referred to as a “postbiotic”). Postbiotics are non-viable microbes or their metabolites that may have similar benefits as probiotics but can be used in a wider array of food and beverage applications.   

ADM's heat-treated BPL1 (HT-BPL1), is uniquely tolerant to high-temperature applications and other harsh processing conditions. HT-BPL1 makes it possible to add functional health and wellness benefits to a wide variety of food and beverage applications like baked goods and snacks.

What’s more, while evaluating consumer behavioural shifts, ADM discovered that consumers increasingly want highly personalised health and wellness solutions. Its research found that 49% of consumers feel every individual is unique and requires a customized approach to diet and exercise. According to Ferrell, this provides fertile ground for food and beverage innovation with prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics across a variety of applications.

“For example, consumers know that prebiotic dietary fibre has health benefits, but they are not always sure how to increase their fibre consumption. ADM's Fibersol line of soluble fibre ingredients makes it easier for developers to increase fibre in foods and beverages without sacrificing taste, aroma or texture.”

2)      No end to the plant-based trend’s move into the mainstream

In Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, 80% of consumers state they are likely to continue eating plant-based meat alternatives beyond COVID-19, according to ADM. With health, safety and convenience as top purchase motivators, products that deliver exceptional nutrition and a high-quality sensory experience will be poised for success, it believes.

However, with meatless firms at war with themselves over long ingredients lists​, and consumers often unconvinced that foods fortified with lots of ingredients can offer a complete source of nutrition​, do brands need to be more concerned about shortening ingredients lists and using more familiar ingredients perceived as ‘natural’?

According to ADM, 60% of consumers say recognisable ingredients influence their purchase decisions, and 66% say they are looking for labels with the shortest ingredient list. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

GettyImagesasian delight
What’s best, minimal ingredients that consumers recognise, or healthier processed foods created by the careful application of science and technology? Getty/asiandelight

“Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients in meat and dairy alternatives, challenging formulators to deliver products with shorter, cleaner labels that don’t sacrifice on taste, texture or nutritional content. Consumers looking for clean-label products expect ingredient lists that are free from certain ingredients, additives and artificial flavours and colours,” ​observed Ferrell. “However, clean label has no standard definition, so it can mean different things to different people depending on individual beliefs and perceptions.”

3)      Concerns about weight management and metabolic health…

The pandemic’s consequences for individuals with hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease means consumers view weight management and metabolic health in a new light, with 51% indicating they are concerned about being less active or gaining weight during the pandemic, according to ADM. That worry is likely to increase demand for functional solutions supportive of metabolic wellness and healthy weight management, it said.

4)      … but also new opportunities for comfort foods

The difficult circumstances stemming from COVID-19 have increased feelings of anxiety and stress, with 35% of consumers reporting being concerned about mental health, according to ADM. People are looking for new ways to improve their mental health during these stressful times, including granting themselves permission to consume indulgent, comforting food and beverages. However, they are tempering this desire with weight management needs and seek a careful overall balance of indulgence and good nutrition.

Food and beverages designed to elevate mood, sustain energy and reduce stress will grow in popularity in the months and years to come, reckons ADM. It also projects new opportunities for comfort foods, snacks and baked goods offering nutrient-rich ingredients and functional health benefits.

There is increased consumer interest in cooking at home with budget ingredients Getty/Halfpoint

5)      Nutrition, it’s personal

As COVID-19 raises consumer awareness of individual health risk factors, demand for products offering tailored, highly personalised health solutions will take off. ADM research indicates that 49% of consumers feel every individual is unique and requires a customised approach to diet and exercise, and 31% of consumers are already purchasing more items tailored for health and nutrition.

“Modern consumers are transitioning away from a reactive approach to proactively improving their holistic health and taking a more personalised approach to optimising both their physical and emotional wellbeing​,” revealed Ferrell.

As shoppers actively seek out products that address specific aspects of health, such as immunity support, mood improvement and weight management, developers can win over consumers by highlighting the efficacy of functional ingredients on the label, she said.  

6)      A polarisation in shopping values: defining 'value' through health and price 

Rising focus on health is triggering a windfall in consumer spending on health products: 48% of consumers plan to purchase more items related to health and wellness, ADM research shows. Concomitantly, however, manifesting concerns around widespread economic decline have prompted a shift to value-based shopping, including growing demand for basic pantry staples, stimulating trade-downs to private labels and increasing traffic to value retailers. These behavioural shifts are likely to persist well after the pandemic crisis peaks, said ADM.

As such, successful brands will be the ones who are best able to balance consumer desire for budget-friendly staple items with their desire for improved health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in consumers cooking and baking at home, as well as growth in centre-of-store purchases. Consumers are looking for options that make it easy to pack meaningful nutrition into meals while still benefiting from appealing sensory qualities,”​ said Ferrell.

“Product developers have an opportunity to highlight health-signalling ingredients such as whole and ancient grains through the product positioning to grab consumers’ attention when they are shopping the centre of the store, and can take it one step farther by including additional ingredients targeting health and wellness benefits like probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics that help consumers feel good about their purchase decision.”

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