Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Paula Labine, marketing director, baking, milling & starch, ADM, about consumers' behaviors and trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Liz Parker: How are consumers’ attitudes, priorities and behaviors shifting during the pandemic? What are some behavior shifts/trends that you have seen?

Paula Labine: Consumers’ attitudes, priorities and behaviors are shifting to emphasize various aspects of health and wellness. Some of these shifts are growth spaces accelerated by the current situation, and others are emerging areas of opportunity for food and beverage developers.

Gut health, for example, is an area of growing consumer interest, particularly as it relates to the popularity of probiotics and prebiotic dietary fiber. Immunity has also been of concern due to the pandemic, and consumers have started to connect the dots between gut health, the microbiome and immune function. Globally, 57 percent of consumers report being more concerned about their immunity as a result of COVID-191.

The health crisis is also altering consumer perspectives on weight management and metabolic health. A growing body of evidence suggests that underlying health conditions like obesity and diabetes can result in more negative health outcomes for individuals who have contracted COVID-19. ADM OutsideVoice research shows 51 percent of consumers are concerned about being less active or gaining weight during the pandemic. With this growing interest and concern, there is an opportunity for products formulated with functional ingredients to help support healthy weight management.

In addition, consumers are more aware of their individual health risk factors, driving a desire for personalized health and wellness solutions. Our research shows that 49 percent of consumers feel every individual is unique and requires a customized approach to diet and exercise.

Stress continues to be a major factor influencing consumers’ daily lives during the pandemic. As people look for new ways to improve their mental health, some grant themselves permission to consume indulgent, comforting foods and beverages while others seek diets tailored to preserving energy, boosting mood or improving sleep.

Consumer purchasing behaviors have also been changing. Spending on health and wellness products is increasing, balanced by an overall shift towards trade-down and value-based shopping in other areas. Private label products are benefiting from this shift. Our research shows 41% of consumers will continue to buy more private label products after the pandemic.

1FMCG GURUS: Twelve Step Guide for Addressing COVID-19 in 2020 and Beyond, April 2020


LP: What kind of better-for-you snacks/bakery products are consumers looking for?

PL: Consumers expect more from their food than ever before. They are looking for exceptional taste, wholesome nutrition and a great value. Health continues to be a key focus area, driving new opportunities to innovate and increase variety within the better-for-you snack and baked goods category. People are looking for nutrient-dense, wholesome options, as well as tailored products that support specific health and wellness concerns. 

Snacks containing plant protein like beans, peas and ancient grains attract consumers seeking sustained energy and satiety. Our research shows that more than 70 percent of consumers rate protein from plant sources as healthy. Manufacturers have an opportunity to better showcase these ingredients to consumers with an on-pack whole food protein claim. 

Whole grains also offer an easy way for developers to add nutrients to snack and bakery items. Shoppers are particularly drawn to products with visible, whole-food ingredients such as nuts and seeds because they add visual appeal and texture.

There continues to be rising interest in gut health and immune function, which developers can leverage by incorporating functional ingredients like pre and postbiotics in their products. Our research shows fiber is the ingredient people are most interested in adding to their diets for reasons like weight management, heart health and gut health. ADM's Fibersol line makes it easy to increase prebiotic fiber in various baked applications without sacrificing taste or texture. ADM also offers HT-BPL1, a postbiotic made from heat-treating the probiotic BPL1, which is uniquely tolerant to harsh processing conditions. This makes it better suited for baked goods than live probiotics that do not survive as living microorganisms after baking.

While better-for-you benefits remain important, product developers shouldn’t lose sight of the role indulgent offerings play during stressful times. Interest in comfort foods and permissible indulgence is on the rise as individuals seek out products that offer a quick reprieve from daily stressors, delighting their senses and boosting their mood with exciting flavors and textures.


LP: What steps should food and beverage manufacturers take in order to gain/keep customers?

PL: Food manufacturers who successfully balance consumer health concerns with affordability will succeed in the months ahead. Trade-down and value shopping behavior as well as center-of-store purchases are growing during the pandemic. Even so, consumers are seeking options that make it easy to pack meaningful nutrition into snacks and meals without sacrificing great taste and an enjoyable eating experience. Product developers have an opportunity to highlight health-signaling ingredients such as plant protein and whole grains to grab consumers’ attention when they are shopping. They can take their efforts further by including additional ingredients like probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics targeting health and wellness benefits, ultimately contributing to the product’s overall nutritional appeal. 


LP: Has the pandemic caused more or less innovation in products?

​​​​​​​PL: Given the current environment, new product innovation and speed to market remain two of the biggest challenges for food manufacturers, and both are areas where ADM is uniquely positioned to support them. Our teams adjusted quickly to new ways of working during the pandemic, enabling the speed of innovation to continue.

Tracking consumer insights throughout the pandemic is helping us inform smart innovation strategies moving forward. Our approach combines ongoing trend mapping with ADM OutsideVoice proprietary consumer research to understand how lifestyle, life stage and environmental factors influence consumer motivations.