We live in a time when many factors are shaping our food habits. In terms of demographics, an unprecedented 30 per cent of Canadians are entering their golden years while expecting to maintain the active lifestyle of a 40-year-old. In terms of the media, never before has there been so much interest in health, nutrition and food safety. Combined with Canada’s evolving ethnic mosaic, these factors mean that things will never be the same again. For food manufacturers and retailers, the status quo is not an option.
This past summer, I attended numerous focus groups on food-related topics. Regardless of the behaviour or product category under scrutiny, people fell into three distinct camps when the issue of organic food came up: those who buy it, those who buy it only in selected categories, and those who don’t buy it at all. This is nothing new. What is new is that those who don’t buy organic products seem to be softening their stance. Rather than dismissing these products, they want more information. How do these products get their organic accreditation? What other information needs to be provided about them? Why are they not sold in the same section as mainstream products? All speculated that retailers separate organic food from regular products to make price comparisons more difficult or that retailers were simply being lazy. Either way, these consumers think retailers are failing them on organics and they expect more transparency from the authorities that are making accreditation decisions. This example represents important changes in the mentality of consumers across all segments: their beliefs are being challenged. They’re on their guard and they expect more.
Health on the Rise
Between 2002 and 2008, consumers’ criteria for choosing their food shifted dramatically. Concern about sodium increased by 30 per cent, with sodium now being a factor in food selection for 75 per cent of adults. Likewise, concerns regarding fat increased by 45 per cent: today, 78 per cent of the adult population considers fat content when buying foods. Additives are also included in this select group of “undesirables,” while sugar, genetic modification, and country of origin are all increasingly important.
Manufacturers have responded to this challenge by offering more products with health benefits. Thirty-two per cent of the most innovative food products to hit shelves in Canada under a national or private label brand highlighted one or more health benefits, according to an analysis conducted by XTC World Innovation in May 2009.