As many as 85 percent of American consumers made changes in the food they eat or how they prepare food because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2020 Food and Health Survey.
The biggest change was that 60 percent of consumers reported cooking at home more. One in three said they are snacking more, and a quarter said they are thinking about food more than usual. Around 20 percent reported eating healthier than usual, eating more than usual or eating more pre-made meals from their pantry or freezer.
Younger consumers’ habits were the most impacted by the outbreak, IFIC found. More than 40 percent of consumers under the age of 35 reported snacking more than normal, compared to 26 percent of consumers over the age of 50. Younger consumers were also more likely to report eating both more and less healthy foods during the pandemic.
The pandemic was also reflected in changes to the way Americans view food safety, with food handling and preparation related to coronavirus risk topping the list of concerns. Top concerns from last year, including foodborne illness, chemicals in food, carcinogens in food and pesticide residues, all declined.
Where food is purchased influenced how concerned respondents were about safety, with nearly half reporting concerns about food prepared outside of the home. More than 40 percent said they were concerned about food safety when shopping for groceries online.
The survey also revealed significant trends in food attitudes and behaviors since 2010. Factors with the greatest influence on food-purchasing decisions have remained stable, with taste consistently ranking the highest, followed by price, healthfulness and convenience.
The impact of environmental sustainability has steadily risen, with 39 percent of consumers saying it impacts their decisions in 2020. More than 40 percent said it is important that a food manufacturer “has a commitment” to sustainability, and 40 percent said the same about environmentally conscious farming practices.
Attitudes toward health have also changed, with more than half of consumers saying health matters more than in 2010. Aging may play a role, IFIC said, with 63 percent of Americans ages 50 and up indicating healthfulness has more of an impact now, compared to 46 percent of those under 50.
Even as America reopens, shoppers will likely continue to turn to foods that are inexpensive and have a long shelf life. Many of these options are stereotypical comfort foods. But more than any particular craving, shoppers are trying to keep their fridges and pantries stocked during a recession.