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Health, Environment, Indulgence Top-of-Mind for Consumers


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Recent consumer research presented at The Almond Conference 2020 reveals a shift in consumer priorities related to food and drink purchases.

“Prior to 2020, research showed that the top three factors important to consumers when making purchasing decisions were flavor, brand and cost,” said Harbinder Mann, associate director of Trade Marketing and Stewardship at the Almond Board of California (ABC), and moderator of the “Innovating with Almonds to Satisfy Today’s Consumer” panel at last year’s industry conference. “These factors were unseated in 2020 by aspects related to health, the environment and indulgence.”

Lu Ann Williams, director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights, shared data about shifting consumer trends based on a global survey of consumers conducted in 12 countries.1 Survey respondents were asked, “When buying food/drinks during COVID, what factors have become more important?” Health aspects topped the list with 53% of respondents saying this was the most important factor for them – a 30% increase from the previous year. Environmental aspects made the biggest move year-over-year with 33% of respondents indicating this was most important, up from just 9% the previous year. Indulgence saw a moderate increase with 23% of respondents noting it as the most important factor, up from 18% the previous year.

“COVID has impacted the way consumers purchase food and drinks,” Williams said. “Consumers are looking for reassurance and safety, which is what we saw in the 2008-2009 economic downturn. We also expect to see more products targeting immune health.”

Williams noted that almonds are well positioned to take advantage of key innovation drivers happening in the marketplace. Products that are plant-based, recognized as offering health benefits, and perceived as premium and indulgent are being sought after by more mindful consumers.

“Plant-based is a unique platform providing growth opportunity for almonds,” Williams said. “New food and beverage products with almonds that also carried a plant-based claim saw a 60%-average annual growth rate from 2015 to 2019.”

Williams also shared that the fastest-growing health claim food manufacturers are promoting for products that contain almonds is around pro-biotics, which saw a 45% annual average growth rate from 2015 to 2019.

From an environmental perspective, consumers’ emphasis on “mindful consumption” – knowing where their food comes from, understanding how it was produced and its environmental footprint – continues to grow worldwide. In fact, 75% of global consumers who were surveyed say they expect companies to invest in practices related to sustainability.1

“Sustainability-marketed products account for 16% of the market, but they delivered 54% of market growth from 2015 to 2019,” said Emily Lafferty, senior manager of Strategic Sourcing at Simple Mills, which offers products with whole food ingredients, such as almond flour.

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, like Simple Mills, continue to set sustainability standards for sourcing products from suppliers in the food value chain. For Simple Mills that means a commitment to regenerative agriculture, an initiative that, for this company, includes improving soil health, increasing biodiversity, protecting watersheds and empowering farming communities.

Lafferty, who noted that
ABC’s Almond Orchard 2025 Goals align with Simple Mills’ restorative agricultural outcomes, said the company’s products “will be increasingly designed to advance our regenerative agriculture journey and meet consumer demands. Targeted measurements and proof points will be part of the process, leveraging certification programs such as Pollinator Partnership’s Bee Friendly Farming.”

Another key aspect of CPG sustainability programs and initiatives includes tracking and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Shawn Houser-Fedor, senior director of Chocolate and Packaging Research and Development at The Hershey Company, shared that the company, by the end of this year, is committed to setting a science-based target that is in accordance with the Paris Climate Accord.

“About 73% of Hershey’s greenhouse gas footprint is related to the purchase of ingredients,” Houser-Fedor said.

Houser-Fedor also shared insight on Hershey consumers’ feedback surrounding how they like to experience almonds in Hershey products. After switching from whole almonds to chopped almonds in its iconic Hershey’s With Almonds candy bar in 2016, for example, the company heard from its consumers – loud and clear.

“Our consumers said they wanted whole almonds back, so in 2018 we brought them back,” Houser-Fedor said. “They not only contacted us to tell us they wanted whole almonds back, but they talked with their wallet. We saw a huge lift in sales, up almost 25%, after switching back in 2018.”

Almonds also receive high marks from Hershey consumers, with 69% saying they like the nut paired with chocolate in candy, ranking fourth in Hershey’s chocolate combinations behind peanut butter, caramel and peanuts.2

Watch the entire panel discussion to learn more about innovation with almonds to satisfy consumer preferences, and view all sessions from The Almond Conference 2020 on ABC’s The Almond Conference 2020 YouTube Channel.

1 Innova Consumer Survey 2020. Average of 12 countries
2 Consumer Research 10/20-10/28/20 via Communispace