New global research from Bord Bia on the dietary lifestyles of over 18,000 people across 9 countries, including Ireland, has highlighted that consumers are taking a more balanced approach to their diets and are purchasing more conscientiously than ever before as a global reset towards dietary inclusivity gains momentum.
The Dietary Lifestyles Report is an update on Bord Bia’s 2018 study and aims to understand how dietary lifestyles have evolved in recent years taking account of seismic changes brought about by global developments including the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, this study examines consumers’ relationships with protein and alternative proteins. The research will help inform and enable companies to harness the opportunities posed by new dietary lifestyles.
Of the 18,591 nationally representative adults that were interviewed in 9 countries, 70% said that they do not adhere to any particular diet or food lifestyle; and 55% responded that while they try to follow a balanced diet, they don’t stick to a specific diet. Consumers are becoming less rigid in how they approach their food consumption; as the study found that while many (30%) aspire to follow - or be associated - with a particular diet, it doesn’t always translate into actual behaviour. Almost 1 in 5 (19%) adhere to a flexitarian diet (16% in Ireland), 9% to a vegetarian diet (8% in Ireland) and 2% to a vegan diet (2% in Ireland).
Health and sustainability are still the main drivers of consumer interest in following a specific dietary lifestyle, with 81% of people deeming themselves to be very healthy and 65% of people making more of an effort to be aware of the environment around them. These trends have been accentuated since the onset of Covid-19, with 64% saying that eating healthily is a priority for them now (versus 12 months ago). Almost 1 in 2 (47%) of global consumers reported that ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients are more important to them than before the pandemic, and a significant proportion (27%) are willing to pay more for food that is sustainably produced.
Convenience remains a significant challenge to following a specific dietary lifestyle, with almost half (47%) stating that the ease of meal preparation was a challenge after initially committing to a specific diet. Accessing food which delivers the right nutrients (iron, B12, fats, carbs and proteins) can also be a hurdle for some and the main barrier amongst those who would not consider following a vegan diet, as 29% believe it is not a healthy balanced/diet. There are also growing perceptions that plant-based foods can be too processed – 30% of consumers surveyed said meat free alternatives are overly processed. Affordability also remains a challenge, with 18% of those who have stopped vegan/vegetarian diets saying they did so because it was too expensive.
The report sets out a range of actions and opportunities for Ireland’s food and drink industry to consider when engaging consumers and will enable companies to better understand consumers’ dietary lifestyles, preferences and dietary drivers. Grace Binchy, Consumer Insights & Trends Specialist at Bord Bia, commented on the new research: “This research provides valuable and detailed insights for Irish food and drink companies to help them understand the significant market opportunities posed by evolving dietary lifestyles and new dietary dynamics. It’s incredibly interesting to see that consumers are moving away from rigid interpretations of diets and specific lifestyles and are leading a global reset towards balanced diets and dietary inclusivity. Health and sustainability are at the heart of this as people seek to look after themselves, their families’ and the planet through conscientious purchase decisions towards foods that are sustainable, ethically sourced and healthy.”
A copy of the research deck is available here and the summary key takeaways are outlined below:
- While many consumers around the world (30%) aspire to follow, or be associated with a particular diet, it doesn’t always translate into actual behaviour.
- 18,591 nationally representative adults were interviewed:
- 70% don’t adhere to any particular diet or food lifestyle
- 55% try to follow a balanced diet, but don’t stick to a specific diet
- 19% of those surveyed adhere to a flexitarian diet (16% in Ireland)
- 9% adhere to a vegetarian diet (8% in Ireland)
- 2% adhere to a vegan diet (2% in Ireland)
Dietary lifestyles are currently being driven by 5 macro themes:
- Health – increased focus on physical and mental health
- Back to Basics – natural products, shorter ingredient lists
- The Environment – local produce, use of plastics reducing, carbon footprint awareness, animal welfare concerns
- Covid – health concerns, immunity boosting
- Identity – increased inclusivity, a move away from ‘us V them’ when it comes to diets / food choices
- Health and sustainability continue to drive interest in following these dietary lifestyles with 81% of people deeming themselves to be healthy/very healthy and 65% of people making more of an effort to be aware of the environment around them. Both trends have been accentuated since Covid with 64% saying that eating healthily is a priority for them now (vs 12 months ago).
- Satisfaction with our body image, weight and physical fitness have increased from 2018 levels, but our mental health has dis-improved (-3%).
- Covid-19 has also accentuated the desire for ‘protective health’ - 31% of consumers are consuming vitamins and minerals at least once a day, with boosting immunity the key driver for this behaviour.
- 47% of global consumers reported that ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients are more important to them than before the pandemic, and a significant proportion of consumers are willing to pay more for food that is sustainably produced (27%).
Food types being consumed:
- Fruit and veg has seen significant increases in consumption in the past 12 months. 95% of those surveyed consumed veg weekly or more often (+30% in the last year), while 90% consume fruit weekly or more often (+27% in the last 12 months).
- Consumers are buying more poultry (+11%); while 70% consume red meat weekly, or more often, with steak playing a key role for evening meals, particularly at the weekend. Reduced red meat consumption is evident in Western Europe, with US consumption steady and China increasing. 51% of people who have reduced red meat consumption claim to have replaced it with fish, 37% have replaced it with vegetables and 37% with other meats.
- The study also shows an increase in dairy consumption over the past 12 months – milk (+8%), cheese (+6%) and yoghurt (+10%) and an increased consumption in non-dairy alternatives.
- 62% of consumers have purchased a ‘free-from / alternative protein’ product before. 67% of those who have ever purchased free from/alternative protein purchase a free from product regularly. 25% regularly purchase meat free and 23% regularly purchase non-dairy.
- While price and convenience remain concerns, there are growing challenges around health perceptions of plant-based foods and a lack of comprehension around plant-based credentials. Key challenges:
- Convenience remains a significant challenge to following a specific dietary lifestyle, with almost half (47%) stating that ease of meal preparation was a challenge after initially committing to a diet/food lifestyle.
- Accessing food which delivers the right nutrients (iron, B12, fats, carbs and proteins) is also a hurdle. This is the main barrier amongst those who would not consider following a vegan diet - 29% believe it is not a healthy balanced/diet.
- There are growing perceptions that plant-based foods can be too processed; 30% said meat free alternatives are overly processed.
- Affordability also remains a challenge; 18% of those who have stopped vegan/vegetarian diets claim they did so because it was too expensive.
- Taste and enjoyment of food is a significant factor for flexitarians in particular, and any switch to meat replacements leads to concerns about taste and texture.
- Vegans and vegetarians are predominantly female, with vegans the youngest of all groups – 65% are under 45. Flexitarians are more equally split in terms of gender 46% male, 54% female; they are more likely to be urban and over index in high income households.
- The report sets out a range of actions and opportunities for the Irish food and drink industry to consider in engaging with consumers. Bord Bia will use the report findings to help guide food companies who are looking to develop new products to meet new and emerging dietary lifestyles.