Each year for the past 13 years, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has conducted a nationally representative survey to dig deeper into contemporary American consumers’ perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors around food and food purchasing decisions. Focusing on key issues related to health and diet, ingredients, food production methods, and food safety, as well as social topics like food security, the Food and Health Survey sheds important light on how and why consumers make the choices they do when it comes to food.
As a result, the survey is a hugely important tool for restaurant and food industry brands whose success depends on understanding, and responding effectively to, current consumer preferences. Read on for a look at some of the most important takeaways from the most recent version of the survey.
What is the 2018 Food and Health Survey?
The 2018 Food and Health Survey was an online survey of 1,009 Americans between the ages of 18 and 80. Results were weighted by age, gender, education, ethnicity, and region in order to correctly reflect the American population. The survey was conducted by Greenwald & Associates in March 2018.
What are the survey’s key findings?
The survey included questions on a range of food-related issues, including the connection between food and desired health outcomes, the motivation behind certain eating patterns, consumer sources of food and nutrition information, and food and beverage purchase drivers. Some of the key findings from the survey include:
Consumer confusion is an ongoing issue.
When it comes to questions of food and nutrition, consumers are confused about what to believe and what sources of information they should trust. 80% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “There is a lot of conflicting information about what foods I should eat or avoid,” and 59% of people in this category further stated that this degree of conflicting information made them doubt their food purchasing and consumption choices. Not surprisingly, this consumer segment also reported feelings of heightened stress while shopping.
Context influences consumer perceptions of how healthy a food is.
As part of the survey, consumers were asked to consider two products with identical Nutrition Fact Panels. Despite the nutritional facts of the products being therefore exactly the same, consumer perceptions of the healthfulness of the products were influenced by additional factors, such as the presence of GMOs, a longer ingredients list, the claim of sustainable production methods, the freshness of the product, and a sweeter taste.
Consumers value familiarity.
According to the 2018 survey, taste and price are still the two main drivers of how consumers make food purchasing decisions, but familiarity came in a close third. This is especially interesting to note given that familiarity has not featured in the survey before; furthermore, consumers ranked the impact of familiarity as a purchase driver even above healthfulness.
Consumers are willing to pay for products that are free of artificial ingredients.
Despite the fact that consumers named familiarity as a more important food purchase driver than healthfulness, they are increasingly willing to sacrifice familiarity for products without artificial ingredients. 70% of survey respondents said they would give up a familiar, favorite product for an alternative that was free of artificial ingredients. In addition, 40% of people in this category said they would pay 50% more for such a product, and 20% said they would pay 100% more.
Sustainability is increasingly important.
In 2017, 50% of consumers said that it was important to purchase or consume food that was produced using sustainable production methods; in the 2018 survey, this figure had grown to 60%. The increased interest in this topic appears to be motivated by concerns such as reducing pesticide use and ensuring an affordable food supply.
Consumers are putting more trust in government agencies.
Compared with previous years, consumers today are more likely to trust government agencies (like the USDA, the FDA, or the CDC) when it comes to questions of what foods to eat or avoid. In 2017, for example, just 25% of survey respondents said they highly trusted government agencies as a source of nutrition information; in the 2018 survey, that figure was 38%.
Doctors are trusted as well as influential sources.
Consumers are not only more likely to turn to their personal healthcare professional for nutrition information—54% of respondents reported getting information from their provider—they are also more likely to do what their provider tells them. 78% of respondents said that they had made a change to their eating habits, such as eating more vegetables or eliminating certain types of foods, as a result of a conversation with their healthcare professional.
Key barriers to healthy food include cost and access.
On average, Americans consume fewer fruits and vegetables and more protein than experts recommend. The main reasons cited for this were lack of access to good quality fruits and vegetables, as well as the high cost of such produce.