Wellness Becomes More Significant Driver of Eating Choices in the U.S.

Customized diets, nutrient intake and functional foods are key focuses for Americans.

CHICAGO — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes to American meal consumption.

U.S. consumers succumbed to emotional eating in the early stages of the pandemic and ate indulgent foods to help them deal with the stressful situation. But now, consumers are more settled and accustomed to preparing more meals in their homes, with health and wellness becoming significant drivers of their eating choices, reported The NPD Group.

Today, the focus is on customized diets, nutrient intake and functional foods, according to NPD's recent "America’s Health Pulse: Closing the Gap Between Wants and Needs"report.

Four macro needs drive all consumption: fueling, wellness, connecting and gratifying. Fueling is the top driver, influencing one-third of all eating occasions. The need for wellness grew throughout the pandemic and is second to fueling as a consumption driver. Wellness now directly impacts 21 percent of all eating occasions, which amounts to billions of occasions annually. With most meals sourced from home — a behavior established long before the pandemic — NPD expects wellness as a consumption driver to remain elevated into the foreseeable future.

Although consumers seek wellness overall, they are also homing in on specific areas. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new focus on the food as medicine movement. Concern over the highly contagious and potentially deadly COVID-19 virus led many to consider their food choices to help build immunity, concluded NPD. The importance of strong immunity remains a top wellness focus from a holistic standpoint rather than specifically fighting the virus.

Foods and ingredients that build immunity, like elderberry, jackfruit, and bone broth, are popular with consumers. Additionally, the aging baby boomer population is looking to food as medicine in order to find remedies to either cure or manage health conditions.   

Consumers customize their health and wellness eating goals with a variety of tools. These tools include social media and following social media influencers, personalized eating and fitness plans from healthcare providers or trainers, apps and technology-enabled exercise equipment, and forecasting health using genetic markers, NPD stated in thereport.

"The pattern of consumer attention to health and wellness shows increasing awareness and adaptation across the board," said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at The NPD Group and author of the report. "This means consumers no longer think of health and wellness as an add-on, but as an integrated part of how they live their lives; that, in turn, opens opportunity for brands to become a permanent solution."

Chicago-based The NPD Group offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help companies grow their businesses. It has offices in 30 cities across the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

As Convenience Store News recently reported, Information Resources Inc. (IRI), offering innovative solutions and services for consumer, retail and media companies, and NPD signed a definitive merger agreement. The combined company is designed to be a leading global technology, analytics and data provider that will offer clients a view of total retail purchasing and consumption trends, powered by advanced, predictive analytics on the IRI Liquid Data technology platform.