The International Food Information Council (IFIC) released its 2024 Food & Health Survey today, revealing the perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors that influence Americans’ food and beverage decisions. This iteration marks the 19th consecutive year that IFIC conducted its signature consumer survey.   

The 2024 IFIC Food & Health Survey covers a wide range of topics from farm to fork, including food production, food safety, eating patterns and diets, specific food or beverage ingredients, as well as consumers’ relationship with food, purchase drivers, and trust in information sources. Newer to the survey this year are questions regarding medication and lifestyle choices, ultraprocessed foods, and artificial intelligence.  

“The 2024 IFIC Food & Health Survey is a comprehensive snapshot of the complex factors that shape Americans’ food and beverage decisions,” says Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, IFIC president, and CEO. “We tripled our sample size this year, allowing for greater exploration of Americans’ food beliefs and behaviors than in previous IFIC surveys. This approach not only gives us deeper insights, but also demonstrates our commitment to evolving our research platform to align with America’s population trends.”   

Rising consumer stress and food cost likely impact food decisions

It is clear to consumers that the cost of everything has risen in recent years—including what they eat and drink. In fact, 9 in 10 (90%) say they have noticed an increase in the price of food and beverages. This recognition is up significantly from 83% in 2022.

“Examining the awareness of increased cost by generation reveals a fascinating finding: Each generation has noticed the increased costs significantly more than the generation(s) younger than them,” states Kris Sollid, RD, senior director, research & consumer insights at IFIC. “In other words, more Baby Boomers have noticed the rising costs compared with every other generation. More Gen X have noticed the rising costs compared with millennials, and so on.” 

The survey also spotlighted how stress impacts food and beverage choices. Nearly 2 in 3 consumers reported feeling very or somewhat stressed, which is an increase from past years. When asked about the main factors for this stress, “managing personal finances” was the top answer at 59%, followed by “the economy in general” at 51%.   

The connection between finances and stress is clear, and the survey dug deeper into the connection between food and emotional well-being. Interestingly, 3 in 4 consumers believe their food and beverage choices impact their mental/emotional well-being, and 2 in 3 believe the reverse: that their well-being impacts their food and beverage choices.  

American define healthy food as fresh, protein-packed, and low in sugar

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is preparing to release its updated definition for a “healthy” packaged food. American consumers, however, judge the healthfulness of a food using their own criteria.  

For the third straight year in the IFIC Food & Health Survey, “fresh” (39%) is the most common criteria used by consumers to define a “healthy” food followed by “good source of protein” (37%) and “low in sugar” (35%). While the inclusion of “fresh” and “low in sugar” in definitions for “healthy” have remained consistent across the last three years, “good source of protein” is gaining steam, steadily climbing over the past three years.  

One in three Americans are familiar with processed foods terminology

There is no consensus on the definition of “ultraprocessed foods” among food and nutrition scientists. With headlines touting potential harmful health effects, 1 in 3 Americans are now familiar with the term “ultraprocessed foods,” yet there are differences by age. For example, younger generations are more likely than older generations to be familiar with the term “ultraprocessed foods” (39% for Gen Z and 42% for Millennials compared with 30% for Gen X and 21% for Boomers). And the youngest generations (Gen Z and Millennials) are twice as likely as Baby Boomers to be familiar. 

Taste tops the list, followed by price and health

American consumers continue to rank taste (85%) as the most impactful element in their food and beverage purchase decisions. Price remains the second most impactful (76%), followed by healthfulness (62%), convenience (57%), and environmental sustainability (31%).  

The impact of convenience, however, is down from last year (61% in 2023 to 57% in 2024). The impact of environmental sustainability on food and beverage purchase decisions has also declined in each of the past two surveys (39% in 2022, 34% in 2023, and 31% in 2024). 

Overall confidence in the safety of U.S. food supply is significantly down

Confidence in the safety of the food supply is down from last year (62%, down from 70% in 2022). This confidence dropped most among Millennials and Hispanic consumers. 

Among multiple food safety issues, consumers are most concerned about carcinogens in food, foodborne illness from bacteria, and pesticides. Of those concerned with foodborne illness, nearly all are familiar with “best by” dates, but only 2 in 3 (67%) are familiar with what to do when their food has been recalled. 

Bay boomers are the healthiest skeptics regarding social media information

In today’s increasingly digital world, the survey captured that exposure to food and nutrition content on social media is increasing. “We found that over half of consumers (54%) report seeing food and nutrition content on their news feeds, up from 42% last year,” Sollid says. “What’s interesting is that while consumers are seeing more of this content, fewer Americans have a lot of trust in it.”   

And when it comes to trust, Baby Boomers are the most skeptical. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Baby Boomers say they trust food or nutrition content they come across on social media, which is significantly lower than the trust every other generation reports (71% for Gen X, 68% for Millennials, and 76% for Gen Z).  

“The conversation around trust in food and nutrition information is so important to analyze and understand,” Reinhardt Kapsak says. “Ensuring consumers have access to compelling, science-based information about food to inform smart, healthy decisions for themselves and their families rather than misinformation is a cause worth championing, and that is what IFIC is all about.”  

View the full 2024 IFIC Food & Health Survey here.   

Related: IFIC: consumers confused about processed food definitions, healthfulness