Most U.S. consumers report eating more comfort foods, snacks, and treats because of the coronavirus, reports market research firm Packaged Facts in the newly published study Vegan, Vegetarian, and Flexitarian Consumers. Some consumers are eating more healthily and more locally produced foods, while a smaller portion is eating less healthily, less fresh produce, and more processed foods.
While only 5 percent of the U.S. population consider themselves vegetarian (2% vegan) the plant-based food market has risen 50% since 2017. Red meat & poultry production has increased by 1 million pounds January – August 2020 from the same period in 2019.
It is important to understand that because one may report being a vegan or vegetarian, that does not mean they are eating a healthy diet. There are a good deal of alternative meat and alternative dairy products on the market that are not healthy, but are convenient for the consumer. Many of these products are highly processed and contain oils which make them unhealthy, so it is important for vegans and vegetarians to focus on a whole food approach
“The coronavirus has impacted consumer eating habits, with some tending toward less healthy foods, while others are experiencing the opposite and hunkering down with healthier foods,” says Jennifer Mapes-Christ, food and beverage publisher for Packaged Facts.
Vegans, who already tend to think they eat a healthy diet, are most likely to report eating even more healthily (and are the least likely to be eating less healthily) due to the pandemic. They are also most likely to be eating more local foods—likely because vegans already place value upon eating local and want to eat even more local foods to support small businesses during the pandemic. Similarly, vegetarians are less likely to be eating more comfort foods but are the most likely group to be eating more processed foods.
In contrast, flexitarians—those who eat meat or poultry but regularly mix up their diet with vegan or vegetarian meals—are the group most likely to be eating more comfort foods and (along with pescatarians) are the most likely to eat more snacks and treats, revealing this group is looking to food for comfort during this tough time.
Omnivores—those who eat meat with most meals or large servings of meat—are overall expressing fewer changes to their diet than those with other eating philosophies.
Beyond these developments, Packaged Facts also found that while all consumers are changing their shopping habits amidst the coronavirus pandemic, these changes are especially prevalent among people who are not omnivores. Vegans, pescatarians, and vegetarians are more likely to be increasing frozen food purchases and use of online ordering for general products and groceries.