Nearly a third of UK consumers have changed their diet since the start of the pandemic

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While 59% of UK consumers have switched their eating habits in the past five years, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this move with 29% of consumers claiming to have made a change to their diet since March 2020.

Physical health is the main reason consumers have looked to change their diets, with reasons ranging from losing weight (41%), or simply to feel healthier (34%).  However, the research shows consumers have also looked to alter their diets to better support their mental wellbeing in recent months, with the proportion doing so rising from 11% pre-pandemic to 16% by October 2020.

Strategy&, part of the PwC network, surveyed over 2,000 adults to find out about changing dietary habits and associated shopping behaviours, initially in December 2019 and again in October 2020 to understand the impact of the pandemic. The survey was developed in association with Google and Spoon Guru.

As well as health reasons, one in six consumers (15%) are also increasingly setting ethical goals, around issues such as sustainability and animal welfare which are shaping dietary changes.  This trend is most common among 18-34 year-olds, with 22% saying they have changed their diet for environmental and ethical reasons, compared with only 10% of those over 55 year olds.

Colin Light, Strategy& Partner and Customer Transformation Leader, said:  “Consumers are increasingly looking to make changes to their diet whether for the sake of their mental wellbeing, physical health or with ethical conscientious reasoning.  But whatever the motivation retailers and consumer goods businesses need to be aware of this shift and should be looking at what more they can do to help consumers reach their food goals, which may vary, and not follow a product-promotion-price approach that is often the default.

“Generation Z are most likely to be making changes to their diets and whilst they may lack the spending power of older generations, retailers should be actively targeting and learning from these consumers as their behaviours indicate the direction of travel, and engaging effectively now can lay the foundations for long-term loyalty.”

Unsurprisingly, more than a fifth of consumers, 21%  surveyed increased the amount they spent online during 2020, additionally, 13% say they would increase the amount of grocery shopping they do online in the next 12 months.  There is also a desire to spend more with local and independent businesses.

Colin continued:  “The demand for local, sustainable and convenient food is by no means mutually exclusive, with the growing range of delivery services and marketplaces available to independent retailers, they are increasingly able to quickly meet local delivery needs.

“It is clear that changing consumer diets and shopping habits have far-reaching implications for the entire grocery ecosystem, from farm to fork and crop to cup. Retailers must take steps to remain relevant to customers and be part of the journey.”

Although COVID-19 has accelerated or changed many of the trends the research shows that many were well established before the pandemic struck and therefore it should not be assumed they will recede in any way when society starts to recover.

Emma Burton, retail and consumer customer transformation expert, at PwC, said:  “After such a long period of disruption since the initial lockdown in March 2020, much of the forced experimentation and behavioural change adopted throughout the pandemic, will have become ingrained habits now, from a move towards the greater convenience of home delivery, to increased goal-setting around health and wellbeing.

“As such, retailers must recognise the acceleration of these trends and make it their goal to better understand their consumers’ needs and expectations, based on deeper and more relevant insights. Adapting business models, marketing, technology, and supply chain will all work to ensure they are helping consumers shape, set and achieve their goals.”

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