As the novel coronavirus has made its way across the globe, we have watched the statistics mount describing its toll on human life and consumer markets. Much speculation is centering on what might become the new normal to help consumer product companies effectively pivot. As a behavioral research company, we are tracking not only coronavirus impacted behaviors, but the whys underlying those behaviors. This disruption has led to two different research initiatives which are helping companies make those pivots.

First, we tracked a segment of U.S. primary shoppers called Clean Label Enthusiasts® throughout this initial period of the current crisis (and had been tracking prior to this disruption). These consumers are known to be lead indicators of broader shopping behavior change. Secondly, we also took a November 2019 read of global primary shopper behavior as a baseline and compared it to a read in April 2020. This study compared the buying trends among primary shoppers in ten countries including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, India, Turkey, France, Germany and the U.K.

Around the world, interest in clean label products is on the rise. More than half of all primary shoppers in China, Turkey and Mexico are Clean Label Enthusiasts® – consumers who preferentially buy products that are free of artificial ingredients and that support ingredients from natural sources. Since the coronavirus pandemic, these primary shoppers are trending higher in the U.S. (28 to 32%) and Canada (27% to 34%). This trend in awareness and interest in clean label products is driven by heightened concerns for personal and family member health – a key motivator now for five years.

Underlying this rise in clean living lifestyles is a general distrust in the healthiness and safety of food. In the U.S., only 32% of primary shoppers agreed that they trust the U.S. food system with 39% disagreeing. The coronavirus pandemic appears to be reversing this trend as trust has up-ticked to 34% and distrust dropped to 36%.

Our research into trust has found this trend is consistent with other countries around the world.  However, there are distinct differences in whom shoppers trust. Around the world 76% to 94% agree that family members are a trusted source on food and food ingredients, with China the highest.  However, the U.S. is strikingly different as only 29% trusting family members. U.S. shoppers place greater trust in friends on Facebook and other social media sites (37%).

Some areas seeing an increase in trust is good news for the food industry. Across the world since the novel coronavirus crisis began, trust in information about food safety is up when sourced from government regulators, dieticians, food companies and farmers. Countries such as China are the most trusting of their government regulators (77%) whereas the U.S. and Germany still remain relatively low at 37% and 30%, respectively. Farmers tend to be a more trusted source of information about food safety compared to food companies and grocery stores in all countries except China.

In a reversal of a U.S. trend, the pandemic disruption has impacted trust in food activists (influencers and bloggers) as a reliable source of information about food and ingredients. Food activist trust has sharply declined from 26% to 19%. These food activists have often been at odds with food scientists and marketers in voicing their points of view. If this trend continues, it will create new opportunities for food marketers to regain shopper trust with claims that are backed by believable scientific facts.     

The importance of this research will continue as a service for not only insights professionals, but for corporate marketers and innovators working in the food industry as well as consumer packaged goods, financial services and more. The value of tracking how Clean Label Enthusiasts® change in response to the pandemic will provide insights into what the future will bring, and now is the time to be planning for that future. To understand and forecast consumer purchase behaviors, we have applied a specific proprietary insights framework to understand behavioral motivations and help us predict short- and long-term consumer change. To learn more about this framework and how it is being applied, please CLICK HERE.  

To access our Weekly Behavioral Updates as we track behavioral change among Clean Label Enthusiasts® CLICK HERE.