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Healthy diets versus healthy minds

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Julian Dailly EVP 26 April 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has caused huge shifts in behaviours, from approaches to working and education, through to socialising and shopping.

During the pandemic, consumers sought foods that were familiar and comforting, with heritage brands showing sales increases.

These have all potentially impacted the foods we’ve been eating, from home cooking and cooking from scratch, minimising food waste, to eating more takeaways, savoury snacks, and sweet treats.

Looking at our latest Grocery Eye findings in 2021, and comparing data to 2019, when life was ‘normal’ as we knew it, we see two (initially seemingly contradictory) headlines:

  1. Scores for ‘how healthy your usual diet is’ are unchanged, with a consistent 30% scoring 8-10/10 (where 10=very healthy), 63% in the middle (4-7 out of 10), and just 7% unhealthy, rating themselves 1-3/10.
  2. However, when asked if they have been more or less healthy in their diet in the last 12 months (than they used to), we have seen a 13% point increase in reports of ‘now less healthy’, at 15%.

We’ve seen years of the health trend increasing, but this illustrates a possible tipping point in attitudes, as a healthy diet starts to become re-defined, not simply by the quantity of fruit, vegetables, low-sugar, or low-fat foods consumed, but towards a more holistic, balanced attitude to our diets and the healthiness of them.  Indeed, while some diets may be now thought less healthy, it doesn’t mean they are unhealthy.

During the pandemic, consumers sought foods that were familiar and comforting, with heritage brands showing sales increases.  Enjoyment, happiness, emotional and mental wellbeing have become more prominent over the last year, and with this, perceptions of our food choices have also changed – from calories and nutritional figures to nourishment for both the body and mind.

This is also reflected in other responses within the study, with increases for the proportion enjoying spending time with their family (up 8% points), as well as fewer always checking the nutritional content of food (6% points lower than in 2019).

Finally, looking at broader attitudes to food packaging, sourcing, and manufacture, the data also shows slightly increasing importance in the use of British, local, and authentic ingredients – again pointing to appeal of food that reinforces culture, authenticity and familiarity.  On the other hand, concern regarding the manufacturing process waste, carbon emissions, and road miles has shown the largest decreases in importance, as consumer focus somewhat narrows on those elements of the foods they eat that are closest to them and bring enjoyment – delivering a healthy mindset, as well as a healthy diet.

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