IFIC survey shows that most Americans changed food habits because of COVID-19

January 27, 2021
Alissa Marrapodi

According to the 2020 Food & Health Survey, conducted in April by the International Food Information Council, 85% of Americans said they had experienced at least some change in their eating or food preparation habits because of COVID-19.

According to the 2020 Food & Health Survey, conducted in April by the International Food Information Council (IFIC; Washington DC), 85% of Americans said they had experienced at least some change in their eating or food preparation habits because of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has upended virtually every aspect of our daily lives,” said Joseph Clayton, IFIC’s CEO, in a press release. “While new vaccines and treatments will hopefully help turn the tide, IFIC’s survey data suggest that some of the changes we’ve undergone are proving durable, even many months later. Drawing on IFIC’s expertise in nutrition, food safety, and consumer attitudes and behaviors, we believe the pandemic will continue to be the dominant force behind a wide array of food trends in the coming year.”

COVID-19 still raises food-safety concerns 

IFIC surveys historically have shown little variation in consumers’ biggest concerns about food safety, but that changed in 2020 with COVID-19—the risk of food handling and preparation related to COVID-19 was ranked the top food-safety concern by more Americans than any other issue (24%), outpacing foodborne illness from bacteria (20%).

Despite there being no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 from food or food packaging, IFIC predicts food safety will continue to be top-of-mind in 2021. This trend in 2021 will be reflected in technologies and innovations such as minimal face-to-face interactions in restaurants, contactless take-out options, and home food-delivery apps and services making greater use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to meet customer needs and expectations around food safety.

Affordable and convenient

Consumers’ food priorities are shifting toward convenience and affordability and away from time-consuming and labor-intensive endeavors. According to IFIC’s 2020 Year-End Survey, when Americans were asked how their cooking habits had changed over the past year, 36% reported cooking more simple foods, ranking ahead of trying new recipes (30%) or new cooking techniques (19%). At a more concerning level, nearly three in 10 (28%) said they are worried about being able to afford food for their household in 2021.

IFIC said in 2021, expect to see simpler, more “semi-homemade” meals that incorporate affordable options like canned or frozen foods, along with staples such as rice and pasta that can be quickly assembled for a well-balanced and budget-conscious meal.

Out with the fad diets, in with immunity

IFIC’s data revealed this New Years, Americans aren’t investing energy into fad diets or being as restrictive with food as they may have been in past years. Instead, Americans will be focusing more on their general health. And big focus for 2021, however, will be immunity. In the 2020 Food & Health Survey, out of those who said they are seeking foods or following diets for their health benefits, 40% wanted benefits for their immune function. In addition, nearly one in five Americans (18%) in December cited the pandemic as a specific reason they’re looking for foods to strengthen their immune system.

Snacks are here to stay

IFIC’s 2020 Food & Health Survey reported that one-quarter of Americans (26%) snacked multiple times a day, which was unchanged from 2019. By August 2020, that number had increased to over one-third (36%).

In 2021, since nearly four in 10 report replacing meals with snacks, expect to see more substantial snacks (think protein, healthy fats, and whole grains) serving as meal replacements.

Consumers’ love of caffeine continues

Nearly three in 10 respondents (28%) in December said they were consuming more caffeinated beverages than they did the previous January. (Caffeine consumption among American adults already is nearly universal, at 96% in the 2020 Food & Health Survey.) Parents of children under age 18 reported that they were more likely to need caffeine with lunch in comparison to those without children, with 67% of those parents saying that they consume caffeine in multiple ways vs. 55% of adults without young children.

Remember These Food Trends?

In January 2020, IFIC predicted that sustainability and plant-based eating would be among the top trends of the coming year. While these trends took a backseat to COVID-19, all indicators are pointing to their resurgence in 2021.

Plant-based protein has been blossoming from restaurants to grocery store meat cases. In fact, IFIC research indicates the majority of Americans have tried at least one new type of plant protein over the past year.

Plant-based protein and sustainability go hand in hand. IFIC anticipates interest in them will only continue to grow in 2021, along with the emerging technologies and innovations that make them possible.