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Along with wide-ranging insights into how consumers approach the topic of functionality in relation to foods, beverages, supplements, and lifestyle, our recently released Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report provided a special focus on the effects of the pandemic on the daily lives of consumers, including changes in shopping, eating, and health and wellness activities. This study of the impacts of COVID-19 on the lives of consumers was conducted in April 2020, just as confirmed infections and economic shutdowns in the U.S. were gathering momentum. At the time, 89% of those aware of the pandemic cited disruption to their household, and we found that a near universal concern about COVID-19 took many forms relating to economic, physical, and mental health effects.

Perhaps most notable were concerns relating to how significantly consumers viewed COVID-19's impact on the physical and mental health of those close to them as well as on themselves: in terms of physical health, 84% of consumers aware of COVID-19 said they were somewhat or very concerned about family/friends catching the coronavirus (vs. 75% being concerned about catching it themselves). Another 59% said they were concerned about gaining weight due to the pandemic.

In terms of concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on mental and cognitive health, 75% of consumers aware of COVID-19 were somewhat or very concerned about their children's learning/development, and 58% were concerned about their own mental health. Another 68% were missing social connections with others, and 60% were concerned about losing touch with friends/relatives.

These concerns reflect COVID-19’s disruptive impacts on individuals in terms of heightening stress and anxiety, which have in turn triggered deeper examination of personal and collective approaches to health and well-being. As a result, we observe changes in consumer sentiment coalescing into four key themes, which were expanded on and described in our recent Future of Food white paper:

Personal empowerment, reflected in a greater focus on immunity and proactive, holistic health.

A new emphasis on resilience as consumers reflect on their response to challenges in the present and uncertainty about the future.

Reassessment of connectivity, with social distancing measures making consumers more aware of and intentional about social interaction — its risks, rewards, and implications of responsibility.

Discussion and anticipation of needs for systemic change (relating to social and racial justice), with many Americans more aware of underlying vulnerabilities and inequities in the systems that support communal well-being.

With so many challenges presented to both physical and mental health, Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 finds that consumer efforts to boost their resilience and immunity cover a range of practices and behaviors, including but not limited to increasing their consumption of functional foods and beverages (as described by 31% of consumers aware of COVID-19) or increasing their use of supplements (as described by 29% of consumers — see Figure 1). Commenting on the topic of resilience, Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt noted in a recent Specialty Foods Association webinar that Hartman Group research had revealed a growing sense of consumers wanting to be more resilient as the pandemic grew in scope and impact.

As cited in a FoodNavigator-USA article about her webinar presentation, Demeritt said, “They don’t always use that word, per se, but it is that sense that in times of pandemic, we need to take extra action to protect our health and the health of our families. So, being resilient against disease, being resilient so we can stay mentally strong, being resilient so we don’t let stress get the best of us. This whole idea of personal empowerment and of consumers wanting to take more control of their health [is central today].”

Our Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report underscores how consumers are making changes to daily routines to boost immunity and resilience due to COVID-19: 39% of consumers aware of COVID-19 say they’re getting more sleep, 37% say they’re exercising more, and 33% say they’re meditating and praying more. 20% of consumers aware of COVID-19 say they’re talking to healthcare professionals more (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Changes in Daily Routines Due to COVID-19 (Among Those Aware of COVID-19)

Source: Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report, The Hartman Group, Inc.

Changes in Daily Routines Due to COVID-19

Post-pandemic, most consumers anticipate that at least some of the changes they have been forced to make during the pandemic will continue after the threat has passed. Many of the changes to lifestyle relate to boosting resilience and immunity: highest on the list include pledges around healthier living and eating as well as more frequent cooking at home. In relation to opportunities in food and beverage products, 19% of consumers say they plan to continue to consume more functional foods after the threat of COVID-19 passes and 16% plan to keep drinking more functional beverages. More broadly, 27% report wanting to improve their diet long term and 33% want to take better care of their health, representing a broad range of product potential linking to resilience and immunity.

Only time will tell if these changes will stick, but it is likely that consumers’ near-term adaptations and sustained pressures on household resources will present them with new decisions to make and prompt continued reexamination of their choices and habits in the coming years, especially as relates to building resilience and immunity for better health.