The Transition from Food to Nutrition in the Evolution of the Food Industry

January 26, 2022
Borderless Leadership - article

Since the pandemic, the food industry has undergone rapid change driven by new consumer demands. Consumers are no longer willing to compromise. Consumers want it all, with demands that are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Consumers are seeking food that is delicious, healthy, and nutritious. It’s no longer “either/or,” it’s “and”.

The latest buzzword is “proactive nutrition.” This means getting ahead of health issues with prevention, rather than treatment after the fact. This means reducing sugar, salt, and fat, and eating clean and natural foods.

Consumers want products that can be trusted from companies that are transparent and are open about where their ingredients are sourced from and where the product has been made, all the way back to the farm. They’re also seeking brands that have a purpose and are environmentally and ethically sustainable. What’s more, consumers want products to be “made for me.” Consumers are looking for personalized nutrition that should be easily accessible. In today’s digital world, foods should be able to be delivered to the home, ready-to-eat, and be affordable.

Today’s consumers have exceptionally high expectations. Focusing on nutrition and health is leading consumers to focus on self-protection and going “back to basics.” Consumers understand that food is nutrition, and nutrition is health. Consuming products that have fewer chemicals and less sugar, salt, and fat, provides benefits for preventing non-contagious diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and so on.

But it’s not just a matter of eliminating the unwanted, it’s also about adding desirable components. This includes putting protein, fiber, probiotics, and other beneficial ingredients into the food. For instance, there has been a boom in demand for plant protein, which has been driven by the consumer perception that plant protein is healthier than animal protein.

A major focus for the food industry is on foods that strengthen the immune system. Traditional foods, for example, are perceived to be healthier from an immunity point of view, and now, newer, modern ingredients are making claims based on scientifically proven data.

The most common comments from consumers today is, “I want to get my overall health and wellness up,” “I want to increase my immunity,” “I need to control my weight because I have exercised less since the pandemic,” and “I want to improve my mental well-being up.” The confinement experienced by most people during the pandemic has meant that people are suffering fatigue just from being stuck at home. The impact on mental health is also a growing concern to be tackled through nutrition.

In Europe, 65% of consumers are now considering using immune health products. This market is no longer a niche. Two out of three consumers are looking for immunity benefits in the food they buy. Only 52% of EU consumers indicate they are satisfied with the quality of their immune system right now. They feel vulnerable to illness. Already, 56% of consumers have made changes to diets, lifestyles, and the type of food they eat to improve their immune system. The number of Google searches for “immune systems” has gone up by a staggering 670%.

All of this is what the food industry refers to as “proactive health.” Consumers need to trust and have confidence that what they’re eating and drinking is going to deliver the “real deal.” They want to see the data and the science proving that their food is actually beneficial.

With all this focus on health, there is an interesting shift in the dynamic between the food industry, supplement industry, and pharmaceutical industry. In the past, consumers would eat the foods they craved, and if they then had health concerns, they would take supplements for disease prevention. And when a health issue arose, they would take a drug to cure it. Now, consumers don’t want to treat the illness, they want to prevent it all together.

Consumers are asking, “why don’t you put the right ingredients in my foods from the start, rather than having me take medication after the fact?” So suddenly, we’re starting to see food producers and pharmaceutical companies partnering in this space. Previously, partnerships were formed only for niche products, such as infant formula, or products for healthy aging, joint health, or muscle performance.

Looking ahead, the key differentiator for a successful company in the food industry will come down to the ability to integrate solutions that meet both the nutrition and health needs of consumers. This means managing the production of food so that it tastes great, provides health benefits, is convenient and affordable, and where responsible sourcing can be traced all the way back to the farm.

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