Stressed-Out Consumers Shift Eating and Buying Habits

Annual IFIC food and health survey also underscores growing influence of digitally-savvy Gen Z buyers
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Gen z shopper
IFIC's annual food and health survey revealed core drivers of price, values and stress, especially among younger shoppers.

Every year, the International Food and Information Council (IFIC) publishes a food and health survey, a microcosm of eating and lifestyle habits at a particular point in time. Its latest survey reflects the times, with ongoing consumer concerns about volatility and inflation and the growing influence of younger consumers with different demands and tastes.

The 2022 Food & Health Survey, which polled 1,005 adults from ages 18 to 80, revealed some notable shifts. “Even more so than in past years, the 2022 Food & Health Survey is showing sharp changes, over a relatively short period, in many of our beliefs and behaviors when it comes to the foods we purchase and consume,” summed up Joseph Clayton, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based IFIC. “Some of these changes are clearly attributable to the lasting scars of the pandemic, while others bear all the hallmarks of significant generational shifts."

Highlights of this year’s survey include the following:

  • The rise of Gen Z: The youngest group of adults is “starting to flex their consumer muscle,” IFIC reported. Nearly three quarters (73%) of adults between 18 and 24 believe that their generation is more concerned about the environmental impact of food choices than other generations. This demographic also has a holistic approach to health, ranking emotional/mental health in the top three health benefits they look for in foods, beverages or nutrients. They’re big on e-comm, too, with 35% reporting that they shop online for food at least once a week, compared to 24% of Gen Xers and 11% of Baby Boomers.
  • Stress eating is up: More than half (56%) of consumers said they feel very or somewhat stressed and one in four often or always eat when they are feeling that way. The desire for comfort food is evident in a boom in snacking, with 73% saying they snack at least once a day, up 15% compared to 2021.
  • Eating plans are back: Lots of people may be stress eating, but many consumers are eating mindfully, too. The number of survey respondents who said they are following a diet or eating plan rose substantially, up 13% from 2021. The most common eating habits are clean eating (16%), mindful eating (14%), calorie-counting (13%) and plant-based eating (12%). Almost a third (31%) said they are eating more protein from whole-plant sources this year versus last year. Drivers for these eating patterns include protecting long-term health and losing weight.
  • Price vs. values: While consumers hold certain values when it comes to eating and food production, their beliefs are intersecting with their budgets. From the value side, the number of respondents who said that sustainability impacts their food and beverage decisions rose to 39% from 27% in 2021, while more 57% said they are concerned about food waste and 45% said knowing that the workers who produce, distribute or serve the food are treated in a fair and equitable way plays a role in their choices.

That said, inflation may be putting a dent in value-based buying, as 83% of consumers noticed an increase in food and beverage prices in 2022. When given a scenario with a hypothetical product that cost $3 and another that cost $5 but was produced in ways committed to the fair and equitable treatment of workers, 39% said they would purchase the higher-priced product, compared to 61% who opted for the less expensive one. IFIC reported similar responses when participants were queried about their willingness to pay for a sustainably-produced item. 

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