A few months ago, as part of Datassential’s “2021 Midyear Trend Report,” we asked consumers a wide variety of questions about their planned behaviors and attitudes, particularly as operators across the country opened again and consumers started to get back to some sense of normalcy.
One of the questions we asked was whether they planned to eat healthier in the year ahead, or if restaurants opening and celebrations being back on the schedule meant they would indulge a bit more in the months and year ahead.
The results were clear: Three out of every four consumers told us they planned to eat healthier in the year ahead.
It’s not necessarily a surprising statistic. After all, consumers already indulged in a lot of their favorite comfort foods in the past year, while many were also far more sedentary as they stayed at home. You may have heard phrases like “the quarantine 15” or the “COVID-19 pounds” to describe the excess weight consumers put on in the past year. But now, as they head back to school and work, many consumers are looking to get their health goals back on track.
How can c-stores support those goals? From the changing definition of “healthy” to indulgent healthy foods and even subscriptions services, there are plenty of opportunities for c-stores to reach health-driven consumers. Here are five data-backed ideas to consider:
In many ways, functional foods are healthy foods today. Instead of looking for what the foods they buy don’t have (no fat, low calorie), consumers want to know what a food will do for them: keep them full, give them energy, etc. At the height of the pandemic, over half of consumers told us they wanted to see immunity-boosting foods at all of the places they get food from, while nearly the same amount (48%) said they want to see immunity-boosting ingredients in every food they eat, even options like pizza and burritos. It may sound outlandish, but when you consider that consumers perceive foods like citrus (because of the high vitamin C content), leafy greens and garlic to be immunity-boosting, it’s clear that there are opportunities in a wider range of categories.
Mental and Emotional Health
While physical health and losing weight tends to be top-of-mind when we think about consumer health goals, 80% of consumers say
emotional and mental health is important to their overall sense of well-being. In the years ahead, expect to see an even stronger focus on foods that support emotional and mental health, both on the retail shelf and in foodservice categories like functional beverages. Consider options that include adaptogens, which are designed to help consumers deal with stress, as well as new cannabidiol (CBD) options.
‘Indulgent’ Healthy Foods
Healthy foods are often more aspirational than motivational for consumers: while they aspire to eat a carrot, they are less motivated to purchase that carrot when they see it next to that juicy, indulgent burger on the same menu.
That’s partly why plant-based burgers have been such a big success: Consumers don’t feel like they are making a big trade-off by eating the more virtuous option. Consider other plant-based and healthy foods that consumers may still find indulgent and appetizing. Fried cauliflower and cauliflower “wings,” jackfruit “pulled pork,” vegan cheese options, and using plant-based milks in flavor-forward coffee beverages and milkshakes give consumers the best of both worlds.
It’s no wonder that all of these options are growing on menus: In the past four years, fried cauliflower has grown 107% on menus, cauliflower wings have grown a whopping 1,098%, jackfruit has grown 100%, vegan cheese has grown 200%, and oat milk has grown 1,314%.
When we released our “New Foundations in Health Report” earlier this year, we were surprised to find out that male consumers were far more likely to say they were following a strict diet than female consumers. In fact, nearly 20% of male consumers say they follow a strict diet today, compared to only 7% of female consumers. But men are more likely to follow every recent diet trend we tested, including intermittent fasting, keto diets and the DASH diet.
The keto diet, in particular, had another good year on menus, growing another 63% in the past year. Are you meeting these customer needs with your current menu and retail offerings — and are they adequately labeled and marketed?
Consumers are increasingly open to subscription services from foodservice, with nearly 20% of millennials saying they are already paying for some type of restaurant subscription and over a third (35%) of consumers saying they are interested in a coffee subscription from c-stores.
Consider how health-focused subscription services can make it easy for your customer base to meet their health needs, whether it’s a morning smoothie subscription or a lunchtime salad subscription, particularly as we head into a new year when new health goals and resolutions are top of mind.
Mike Kostyo is the resident trendologist and senior managing editor at Datassential, a market research company that helps food & beverage companies of all sizes and segments innovate, sell and plan for the future, backed by the best data in the industry. He can be reached at [email protected]datassential.com.