Nutrition Expertise

Covid-19: Driving the Nutrition Agenda in Food & Beverage

Covid-19 has hit the food and beverage industry hard. The resulting transformation is likely to have lasting consequences as everyone adapts to a (yet to be determined) new normal. Although uncertainty remains as to exactly how Covid-19’s impact will play out, one thing is for sure: a nutrition strategy is now more important than ever. 

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. As food and beverage brands struggle to stay in business, how they innovate and adapt will determine their fate. As you evaluate your nutrition strategy, here are some things to consider. If you don’t yet have one, now is the time. 

Health and Nutrition are a Priority

The functional food space has grown steadily over the past year. Today’s consumers already understood the important role that nutrition plays in overall health. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the demand for food and beverages with added health benefits has accelerated even further. Brands with wellness connotations are thriving as consumers seek products with added health benefits – specifically immunity. Even during a pandemic with significant economic impact, consumers are willing to invest in products that boost their overall health and build up their immune systems. We also expect to see continued interest in mood boosting ingredients as consumers cope with the emotional impact of the pandemic. Simply put, now is the time to innovate around functional ingredients. 

The Time for Innovation

The next couple of years will be a time of innovation as brands adapt to Covid-19’s impact. In addition to opportunity in the functional food space, there are operational implications that will drive innovation. The pandemic has accelerated E-commerce considerations as brands were limited to off premise dining. Drive through, delivery and contact-less pickup became a necessity overnight. These different business models will continue to be a driving force for innovation. We have also seen a surge in packaged food sales as consumers were restricted to in home meals. This shift in consumption behavior has created opportunity for brands in the retail space. 

Plant Based Nutrition and Sustainability

Plant – based nutrition has been a driving force in innovation over the past few years. The impact of Covid-19 on the plant-based trend is not yet fully understood. What is clear is that there are consumers who fear that animal products are the root cause of the pandemic. Their overall trust in meat is rattled. The data isn’t complete yet, but this may shine an even brighter spotlight on the plant–based movement.  

Although environmental impact has been a driving force in the plant-based nutrition movement, Covid-19 seems to have disrupted the sustainable packaging movement. We have seen dramatic changes in consumers’ perceptions of packaging. They have assigned hygiene advantages to plastic packaging that seem to outweigh concerns about recyclability. Reusable packaging has been banned by many brands to ensure health and safety. Additionally, the rise in e-commerce has increased demand for single use plastic packaged goods. It’ll be critical to monitor consumer insights around sustainability over the foreseeable future.

Focus on Local

There’s no disputing the disruption that Covid-19 has had on the supply chain. As demand for food away from home has plummeted, there has been a temporary boost in grocery demand. At the same time, there have been periods of supply shock as meat and poultry plants have been forced to close for quarantine with diagnosed cases of the virus. This vulnerability suggests cause to focus on local sourcing. In addition to a shortened supply chain, there is intrinsic affinity and trust that comes from local operations, which could translate into brand trust. Local sourcing could also drive efforts towards a seasonal menu, which presents an opportunity for health and wellness brands. 

Food Safety and Hygiene

Food and beverage operators, employees and even consumers have gotten a crash course in food safety and sanitization as a result of Covid-19. At this point, there is no evidence that Covid-19 is transmitted by food, but it can survive on surfaces for several days. Establishing procedures that ensure the health and safety of employees and guests is critical and expected to be an integral part of operations for the foreseeable future. Although pathogen testing has always been an integral part of food safety, it is now top of mind for everyone – including consumers. Visibility around these measures will be a critical component of restoring consumer confidence and trust. 

Community, Communication and Credibility

The customer relationship has never been more important. Direct lines of communication and continued engagement are essential. Covid-19 presents an opportunity to capitalize on customer engagement as brands now have a more captive audience with so many continuing to shelter in place. As consumers are coming to terms with the impact of the virus, they are seeking information that they can trust. Consumers are demanding that product health claims are scientifically supported. Brands have a huge opportunity to leverage influencers who have expertise to educate and build trust. 

Covid-19 has resulted in a seismic shift in consumer mindset and purchasing behavior. Food and nutrition are intrinsically linked to the pandemic both now and in years to come. An effective nutrition strategy will be a critical component as brands innovate, adapt and move forward.  

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Sarah Marjoram