Lockdown has led to a significant change in the nation’s food habits according to new research from Olam Cocoa, which shows that while we’re snacking more than we were before the pandemic, we’re also much more health conscious. Rather than reaching for old favorites, more of us are turning to healthier snacks and plant-based foods—many for the very first time.
More than half of respondents (55 percent) say an indulgent treat has helped to boost their mood during lockdown, and 4 in 10 (39 percent) admit to snacking more frequently since COVID-19 restrictions began. But a third (36 percent) also say they have become more health conscious since the start of the pandemic and 22 percent of consumers say they look for confectionery, bakery or snacks with low sugar, salt or fat. This is especially true of younger people aged 18-34 who are both the biggest snackers and the most likely to have become more concerned about their health since the start of lockdown (45 percent).
One consequence of this is an unexpected boom in plant-based foods. 1 in 5 consumers (22 percent) say they have consumed more plant-based products since the start of lockdown—rising to 37 percent among 18-34 year-olds—and 45 percent are open to trying them. Health concerns were the number one reason (48 percent), followed by the environment (45 percent). This growth is driven in part by consumers who were previously slow adopters. Only 8% of male consumers say they always purchased plant-based food pre-lockdown, yet many more—almost a third (31 percent)—say they have purchased dairy-free alternatives since lockdown restrictions were first introduced.
Milk alternatives were the most popular plant-based purchase with almost half of respondents (44 percent) saying they had bought one during lockdown. But looking to the future, plant-based converts were most excited to try dairy-free ice cream, with dairy-free chocolate not far behind. But although the appetite is there, barriers remain. Whilst price remains the biggest deterrent to purchasing plant-based food, the research also revealed that concerns about taste, texture and limited ranges were still putting some consumers off from adding dairy-free alternatives to their baskets.
Wouter Stomph, ingredient development and innovation expert at Olam Cocoa, said: “As this research shows, lockdown has changed our attitudes towards food and snacking. While the appetite for chocolate and other indulgent snacks remains as strong as ever, consumers want those treats to be a little better for them. The growing interest in plant-based and dairy free foods is especially exciting, but to seize the market opportunity food manufacturers will have to innovate fast to make these products more widely available and to make sure their taste and texture pass muster with their discerning consumers.”
“This isn’t without challenges. For example, we’re seeing growing interest in dairy-free ice cream alternatives, but the creamy texture can be difficult to replicate. Recently, we’ve been working with food companies to develop alternatives that use cocoa ingredients to add flavor and creaminess to plant-based ice creams. Finding the perfect match isn’t easy as there is so much variation – one almond milk can have a completely different taste and texture to another, which is why we’ve spent the past year developing tools to categorize and match dairy alternatives by their flavor attributes.”
 Poll of 2,003 UK adults conducted in August 2020 by Opinium on behalf of Olam Cocoa.