Super foods in bowls

Along with the many pandemic-driven changes in lifestyle countless households and individuals have faced during the pandemic, one of the most significant has been the foundational role that dietary choice and foods and beverages are seen to play in health and wellness behavior today. Notably, our Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19 report found that 61% of consumers said they use food as a remedy to treat or prevent a condition, and 38% said they use beverages as a remedy.

Within the context of health and wellness linked to dietary choices, one of the most dynamic areas of growth in foods and beverages in the past several years has been in the realm of plant-based products — consumer interest in which reflects the fact that either as an eating approach or as a product attribute, “plant-based” appeals to modern health and wellness goals on several counts:

  • As consumers reduce their consumption of animal products, plant-based alternatives are an increasingly easy swap-ins for dairy and meat.
  • Consumers looking to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables turn to plant-based food and beverage for positive nutrition.
  • Plant-based reflects ideals around a balanced approach to eating that incorporates variety but also leaves room for play and discovery.

In terms of specific eating approaches that favor plant-based, those that restrict meat are relevant, but they are by no means dominant when it comes to dietary approaches consumers say they’ve tried in the past year. Figure 1 highlights how 18% of consumers say they have tried a plant-focused approach to eating in the past year (vegetarian, flexitarian or vegan). Of interest, flexitarian is a specific meat-moderating dietary approach gaining in popularity, as consumers are more likely to try it today vs. 6 years ago (7% say they’ve tried this approach in 2021 vs. 3% in 2015).

 Figure 1: Specific Eating Approaches Tried in the Past Year 
(Source: Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19, The Hartman Group, Inc.)

Specific eating approaches tried in last year h HW 2021

Commenting in a recent presentation conducted at the Bridge2Food Summit + Expo Plant-Based Foods & Proteins America 2021 event titled “Plant-Based as a Reflection of Modern Wellness Culture,” Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt provided highlights from ongoing Hartman Group plant-based research and noted,

“An increasing number of consumers are seeking more plant-rich (not necessarily meat-free) diets. Three key trends have emerged as areas that can signal an enhanced degree of quality and healthfulness that consumers are seeking in plant-based products:

Simple Processing: While animal products are well understood, newer manufacturing methods used in some plant-based foods can seem overly scientific and off-putting to consumers and out of sync with their general desire for foods that seem fresher and less processed. Instead, those products that include straightforward ingredients and processing methods resonate with these values.

Positive Nutrition: Products can stand out through not only fortification with sought-after nutrients but even more so when they feature whole food ingredients that offer inherent nutritional benefits.

Sustainable Sourcing: A commitment to socially and environmentally sustainable, or even regenerative — to repair and rebuild from where we are now —production and agricultural practices not only speaks to engaged consumers but also enables a cohesive and compelling product and brand narrative.

Laurie concluded her presentation, noting:

“As the plant-based marketplace grows to reach a wider, more omnivorous audience, there is still room to innovate around consumer aspirations for less processed, plant rich foods. To future-proof in this dynamic marketplace, companies must be mindful of both flavor profiles and ingredient panels to continue to meet the needs of engaged consumers. Opportunities to differentiate abound — e.g., less processed proteins beyond pea and soy, incorporation of vibrant vegetables/fruits and healthy grains, natural sources of unique flavor and texture, and more.”

Curious to learn more about the Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19 report? You can download an overview and order form here, and view a recorded webinar about the report here.