Increased awareness and information access has led consumers to be cautious of ingredients. 

According to a survey by GlobalData, 54 percent of global consumers surveyed noted they pay high or very high attention to what ingredients are in food and drink products. However, stressors, such as a global pandemic, can have a significant and long-term impact on consumption habits. 

Food brands need to cater to both sides of the coin, and guilt-free indulgences and health/ethical credentials may just be the way forward, says research firm GlobalData.

GlobalData’s report, “Moderation and Avoidance, 2020 Update,” notes that stress often results in two contrasting reactions: either consumers will restrict their diets or indulge more in confectionery and comforting foods.

“When put under stress, some people will react by increasing their food intake, while others are more likely to moderate their consumption as a means of retaining some control over one aspect of their lives – these are referred to as stress-overeaters and stress-undereaters, respectively,” said Amira Freyer-Elgendy, consumer analyst at GlobalData. “To target both types of consumer, brands should develop guilt-free indulgences and highlight health or ethical credentials, thereby encouraging consumers to purchase more of their products in the future.”

The three ingredients most avoided by consumers are sugar, fat and salt, GlobalData’s research found. The firm’s survey found 47 percent of global shoppers claim to be actively trying to reduce their sugar intake, while 43 percent and 37 percent do so with fat and salt, respectively. 

Consumers have access to more information than ever before, from an array of online articles that advise and promote the newest diet and ingredients to watch out for. Consumers will, therefore, avoid all three ingredients as they are traditionally perceived as unhealthy, or bad for the body.

“The flow of information may make consumers prone to self-diagnosing and lead them to avoid an ingredient or product because they suspect an allergy or intolerance,” Freyer-Elgendy said. “In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, safety has become a priority for consumers and staying healthy is one way of soothing their worries and making them feel proactive and in control.”

Meanwhile, stress overeaters have caused a steady rise in purchase interest for alcohol, ice cream, and chocolate and confectionery products. This is likely driven by a need for comfort foods, as one in four global consumers are currently feeling anxious – which is an expected fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, economic woes and public safety concerns. 

“As consumers do not want to compromise on the taste of their comforting indulgences, one way to target both the diet restrictors who may be looking for healthy alternatives and the indulgers who are keen on familiar comfort foods is by developing and marketing the ‘guilt-free indulgence,’” Freyer-Elgendy said. “One thing to note is that positively worded claims resonate with consumers more – instead of ‘meat-free,’ consumers prefer ‘plant-based,’ for example. So highlighting the healthy ingredients instead of the lack of unhealthy ingredients is key in marketing products and something that brands should call attention to in such a product’s launch.”