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The conscious consumer: Connecting with health priorities

The growing importance of health in consumer food buying behaviour

The food system is facing a new era in which health is becoming increasingly important when it comes to shopping criteria. Consumers are strongly considering their grocery shopping strategy and are expecting to be better informed.

Understanding consumer needs has always been a key focus for grocers. But with the amount of data available today and the insights they provide, there are increasing opportunities for grocers to cater to consumer preferences. 

Deloitte commissioned a study comparing health motivators in buying behaviour across European countries and population groups, summarising the main findings below. From recent studies in Cyprus, it seems that the local consumer is also taking a health-first approach. 

64% of the respondents indicated that over the past 12 months they have become more interested in learning more about the influence of food on their health. 79% of respondents seek information on healthy living. Health is clearly increasingly becoming a stronger buying consideration when shopping for food.

Health as a determining factor when buying food


Deloitte asked consumers whether health was a consideration when buying food and on average, respondents scored health fairly high on the scale (5.19). When looking at the results on a country level, it is particularly noticeable that in the Mediterranean/Southern European countries, such as Portugal, Italy and Spain, health is a relatively more important consideration when buying food, compared to the Nordic/Northern European countries.

Figure 1

Sustainability as a determining factor when buying food


The study shows that consumers are also beginning to consider sustainability when buying their food. With an average of 4.69 in response to the relevant question, it is evident that although sustainability is important, consumers see health as a bigger deciding factor in their purchasing decision. However, the European countries are again divided in their responses. As with their view on health, we see again that the Mediterranean countries rank sustainability higher than the Nordics. Despite all the focus on health and sustainability, the cost of groceries still remains an important factor. 

Figure 2

The European perception of health


Consumers in Europe are increasingly becoming interested about the impact of food intake on their health - 64% of respondents indicate that over the past 12 months they have become more interested in learning more about the effects of food on their health. 

Figure 3

An above-average interest is particularly noticeable among women, young people, people with a higher education level and/or a higher income. Households with children also show an above-average interest over the past 12 months. Respondents in urban and suburban areas have become slightly more interested in the effects of food on their health, than respondents in rural areas.

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Eating more fruit and vegetables


Respondents not only said they were interested in the impact of food on their health, but an average of 54% increased their fruit intake in the last 12 months. In general, in countries where health is deemed an important consideration in buying food, we see some of the largest changes in food consumption and behaviour. This was especially the case in Poland, for example, with 74% of people indicating that they eat more fruit than they used to. Respondents in Portugal (67%), and Spain (64%) also increased their fruit intake to above average; whereas in Denmark (40%) and Norway (44%) – where health is also not considered as important in buying food – this increase is the lowest out of the countries surveyed. 

The same applies to eating more vegetables than the respondents used to. An average of 59% of people surveyed said that they did indeed eat more vegetables, with Poland once again at the top (77%). Portugal (68%), Spain (65%) and the UK (65%) have also started consuming more vegetables. In countries such as Germany (49%), Switzerland (49%), Denmark (52%) and Finland (54%), the increase in eating vegetables was the lowest. 

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The move to organic


An average of 39% stated that they eat more organic produce than before mostly younger people and those with a higher income. Respondents in France (64%), Portugal (51%) and Poland (50%) have, on average, increased their consumption of organic foods the most over the last 12 months.

What about meat and alcohol consumption?


The increased focus on health has led consumers to change some of their behaviour, but what about alcohol and meat consumption? We asked participants whether they ate less meat in the past 12 months and 45% of respondents replied positively. The percentage of respondents who eat less meat is highest in Belgium (51%), Italy (51%), Portugal (51%), France (50%) and the Netherlands (50%). Norway (33%), Denmark (38%), Finland (38%) and Sweden (40%) have the lowest percentage. This could correlate to baseline diets, with the Scandinavian countries eating less meat to start with. It’s pretty much the same story about alcohol. 48% of respondents said they drank less alcohol in the previous 12 months, a behaviour likely driven by lockdowns and reduced social interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Figure 8

A significant takeaway from the study is that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the relation between food and health. Consumers in Europe have become more interested in learning more about the effects of food on their health and have adjusted their buying behaviour accordingly. 

Health and sustainability matter more and more when it comes to grocery shopping. There is lots of talk among European grocers about becoming orchestrators of healthy living and this is a compelling aspiration, and one that is clearly in tune with European consumer sentiment. Healthy and sustainable grocery propositions are not just about what you want to offer, but also about what you choose not to offer or what buying behaviours you choose to discourage across your assortments. The results imply that bolder steps to encourage health and sustainability have the potential to be win-win; for the consumer, for society, for the environment, and also the grocers.

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