New research from Mintel suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting which food items are attracting consumer interest in the UK.
The market insight firm has identified three broad trends across the country: a move towards plant-based, growing interest in ‘healing’ foods, and greater demand for long-life products.
Pandemic makes vegan diet more appealing
The COVID-19 outbreak could not be interpreted a strong marketing campaign for the meat industry.
Not only is the novel coronavirus thought to have first infected humans via a wet market in Wuhan, China, but the outbreak has since significantly impacted meat production across the globe at sites struggle to contain the pandemic.
In the US, for example, meatpacking facilities are currently running at 95% of average capacity, compared to 2019.
While Mintel’s research did not cover consumer attitudes to meat amid the virus outbreak, the company’s findings do suggest a growing trend towards plant-based.
Indeed, one-quarter of young British Millennials (aged 21-30) say that the COVID-19 pandemic has made a vegan diet more appealing.
And according to the research, the appeal of plant-based may stretch beyond this demographic. Findings revealed that a vegan diet is proving more attractive to over one in ten (12%) of all Brits, rising to almost a quarter (22%) of Londoners, since the start of the pandemic.
For Mintel Food & Drink’s associate director, Alex Beckett, the move towards plant-based feeds into growing concern for the environment, health, and animal welfare.
“People want the world to change for the better right now and they are searching for ways to show compassion. For consumers struggling to know how to make a positive difference, cutting out animal protein may be seen as a way of tackling the climate crisis, showing compassion for nature, and boosting their own nutrient intake,” he said.
“Even before the spread of COVID-19, we were seeing a growing interest in plant-based food and drink across global markets. It may well be that the pandemic is accelerating this trend. For example, in China, we’ve seen skyrocketing sales of the new plant-based meat options in KFC and Pizza Hut.”
Immune-boosting and ‘healing’ foods
As populations look to protect themselves from COVID-19, they may turn to healthier diets, ‘healing foods’, or immune-boosting vitamins.
Indeed, COVID-19 severity and mortality rates have been associated with low immunity. And the novel coronavirus belongs to the same virus family as SARS-Cov and MERS, both of which have led to significant mortality among individuals with vulnerable or compromised immune systems.
Mintel’s latest findings reveal that consumers are looking to plants and foods to improve overall health. Specifically, half of Brits (51%) believe that plant and botanical ingredients – such as herbs and spices – can have medicinal benefits.
Consuming ‘five a day’ is also a high priority, according to the market insight company. One-quarter (23%) of Brits say they are eating more fruit and vegetables since the start of the outbreak.
Concerning specific age groups, 31% of Generation Z (aged 20 and under) and 27% of Millennials are most likely to be keeping their fridges well-stocked with this healthy produce.
And when asked about specific vitamins, two-thirds (66%) of respondents said they believe consuming vitamin C helps support the immune system. Overall, 73% of Brits say the virus outbreak has encouraged them to add more nutrients that support the immune system to their diet.
Strong future demand for shelf-stable food
When the novel coronavirus first hit the UK in January, it prompted a wave of panic buying across supermarket retailers.
Shelf-stable foods – such as ambient soups and tinned pasta – were amongst the most sought-after products.
Now, as lockdown measures begin to loosen and Brits start venturing outside of the home again, it looks like such consumer habits may have a lasting impact. According to Mintel’s research, almost two in five (37%) of consumers believe that, in the future, people will buy long-life food and drink – such as UHT milk and tinned food – more often as a result of the virus outbreak.
Amongst the younger generations, 47% of Gen Zs believe this will be the case, as do 45% of Millennials.
“Before the outbreak, younger people generally opted for convenient, fresh food that didn’t take long to prepare. But under lockdown, with more time at home and no restaurants or cafes open for business, long-life food has had clear advantages,” said Mintel’s Beckett.
“It doesn’t take up precious fridge space and lasts a good while, making it suitable for quarantine-living and resulting in fewer shopping trips. It’s affordable, often nutritious, and, in the case of tinned veg or fruit, suits our rekindled fondness for cooking from scratch.”