How Health Concerns Impact Purchasing Decisions

Living through a pandemic changes you. With global death tallies updated daily and the Delta strain ending New Zealand’s COVID-free streak, it’s no wonder health has become top of mind for so many people. In fact, new research shows that health concerns are weighing heavily on New Zealanders, with almost half (44%) of respondents stating they were concerned about their health.

Of course, health and grocery shopping go hand in hand, and the shifting focus toward health ultimately impacts purchasing decisions. With health the number one driving factor for the majority of Kiwis’ dietary decisions, it has a huge influence on the weekly food shop.

Declining meat consumption

One of the most interesting trends from the research was that New Zealanders are starting to eat less meat; and it’s not a decision driven by environmental or moral reasons, which one might expect.

Health concerns were the biggest reason cited for respondents reducing their meat consumption (62%), with the high cost of meat (51%) also playing a key role. While some respondents did say that environmental reasons (29%) and moral objections to eating meat (12%) played a part, it certainly wasn’t the majority.

What’s important to note here is that the country isn’t suddenly becoming vegan. The vast majority (92%) of respondents continue to eat meat and it’s not something they’re planning to give up altogether. But due to those health and affordability concerns, the frequency with which Kiwis choose to eat meat is reducing.

Almost half the respondents (43%) are dropping meat one or two days per week, with almost a quarter (23%) choosing to eat meat free three to four days a week. Despite the majority of respondents being meat eaters, only one in five (19%) are eating meat every day.

For brands selling meat-based products, there are a lot of positives in these findings. It demonstrates that shoppers aren’t necessarily looking to avoid adding meat to the trolley, they’re just simply looking for healthy and budget friendly items. By adjusting brand marketing and communications to focus more on health benefits and value, it may help to curb the trend of declining meat consumption.

Plant-based meat alternatives

In line with the reduction of meat purchases, the same research showed that one in four (25%) Kiwis had tried plant-based meat alternatives, with over half (57%) of those who’ve tried them planning to continue eating them in future.

Branding for plant-based meat alternatives seem to be ticking the right boxes, with the majority of respondents (66%) who like plant-based meats believing they’re a healthy alternative. Other reasons respondents enjoy plant-based meat alternatives is because they believe they’re better for the environment (64%), are more ethical (54%), and provide a vegetable boost (31%).

With the focus on health expected to remain top of mind for consumers, we could reasonably expect the market share for plant-based meat alternatives to continue to grow as more shoppers try them and grow to like them.

Other food and drink alternatives are also proving to be popular, with almost half of respondents having purchased almond milk (47%) and coconut milk (49%), with soy milk (45%) and oat milk (25%) also popular milk alternatives. Non-alcoholic beverages were also on the rise with respondents having also purchased non-alcoholic beers (26%), non-alcoholic wine (15%) and non-alcoholic spirits (10%).

Healthy messaging

Health trends come and go and brands aligning themselves with popular health trends certainly isn’t new. It would be unwise, however, for grocery brands to pay too much attention to fad diets, with the research revealing very few respondents actually follow ‘popular’ diets such as keto (4%) and paleo (2%), despite the hype these diets receive.

Veganism also appears to be more popular amongst influencers than it is in real life, with only 6% of Kiwis following a vegan diet. Even amongst those respondents who do follow specific diets, only 13% follow them completely strictly, which account for too few people to warrant dedicated marketing efforts.

Traditional ideas about what makes a healthy diet tend to be more widely accepted. Across the board, respondents believe processed foods (75%) and refined sugar (70%) are some of the most problematic elements of a typical Western diet, with saturated fats (57%) and excess salt (56%) also a concern. Brands who wish to reposition themselves as a healthy alternative would be best placed to focus on these more typical concerns which will resonate with a wider audience.

Futureproofing against changing health trends

Ultimately, the research demonstrates that Kiwis are not only focused on health, but that they want to eat better than they currently do. Less than half (41%) of respondents considered their current diet to be ‘very healthy’, but when asked about future aspirations, 74% stated they would like their diet to be ‘very healthy’ in future.

Retailers and brands are dealing with a very different customer than they were pre-pandemic, and growing health concerns is just one of the changes affecting purchasing decisions. In order to remain competitive, brands need to ensure they’re constantly across changing consumer insights, not only understanding what’s important for their customers right now, but also predicting what will be important to them in future.

By staying across these trends and adjusting their strategy accordingly, grocery brands can continue to remain relevant for consumers, now and into the future.

By Stephen Walker, Regional Director, Toluna, New Zealand