While health and wellness are always top of mind for most around the New Year, the events of 2020 have all but guaranteed that consumers will place an extreme emphasis on immune health in 2021. As consumers navigate the New Year hyper focused on their health, many will be looking for creative, affordable ways to benefit their immune system, including incorporating health-boosting foods into their diets. With this shift in attention leaning toward nutrient-packed foods, the food industry should brace for consumers who will adjust their buying habits accordingly.

Consumers will turn to food for immune health

Last year, in addition to following CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19, many consumers looked for additional ways to protect themselves and turned to the internet for tactics to stay healthy and boost their immune health. Vitamins and supplements are one approach, but we’ve also seen consumers shift towards more natural options like food and dietary changes to support their health. Because of the pandemic, consumers are staying at home and cooking more often, making it easier than ever to introduce immune boosting foods into their diet. By making smart decisions about the foods and ingredients they consume, consumers can easily and naturally promote and encourage strong immune health. As this year progresses, we’ll see consumers leverage these simple adjustments to their diets to incorporate certain foods like sourdough bread, citrus fruits, and vegetables that support their natural defenses.

The rise of sourdough as an obvious food choice for immune conscious consumers

Bread once again experienced a resurgence in 2020 with many home cooks experimenting in the kitchen and trying their hand at creating their own sourdough starter. Additionally, many artisan bread brands saw increased sales last year as more consumers were shopping at the in-store bread aisle at local grocery stores. Sourdough has always been recognized as a healthier alternative, so it is a popular choice for many shoppers to begin with, and the added gut health benefits have swayed consumers even more during these times. Many of these health benefits stem from sourdough’s starter, which is a naturally fermented mix of flour and water that produces natural yeast. The end product is packed with natural prebiotics which have proven benefits for digestive health, and since about 70 percent of our immune system lives in our gut, a healthy gut can have a huge impact on overall health. Further, the lactic acid bacteria produced during the sourdough fermentation process provides a wealth of benefits to consumers.

Health concerns will lead to a change in food buying habits; Brand loyalty is everything

With consumers being more conscious of how and where they spend their money during the pandemic, it’s become clear that brand loyalty is at an all-time high. Shoppers took a closer look at how brands, like La Brea Bakery, evolved and what changes companies made over the course of 2020, specifically paying attention to new processes and guidelines aimed to keep both employees and consumers safe. The industry saw companies pivoting to repackage food products in single-serve and individually wrapped options to limit exposure, and consumers reacted accordingly. Many food brands found that consumers, who are normally driven by price were being persuaded by how brands adapted to the changing environment. As a result, many artisan bakeries adjusted their processes. In September, in an effort to keep up with consumer demand for our Take & Bake breads, La Brea Bakery enhanced its automation process. Since then, these breads have continued to be so popular with consumers that we have plans for launching new flavors within this portfolio later this year.  To stay aligned with consumer demand we’ll likely see brands continue to adjust select foods and portfolios to keep safety the number one priority and when possible, introduce new foods that will appeal to health seeking consumers. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty around what 2021 will bring to the larger foodservice industry when it comes to trends, but two things are certain: Transparency from brands will be crucial to retain consumer trust; and foods with immune boosting ingredients will have a major impact on what consumers buy.

Christine Prociv is the SVP of Marketing, Innovation and R&D at La Brea Bakery. Prior to joining Aryzta North America, Ms. Prociv was co-founder and president of Innovation Station. Before founding Innovation Station, Ms. Prociv spent 17 years at Kraft Foods in a variety of roles, including senior director of new product development and strategy and senior brand manager and category business director. Christine received a bachelor’s degree in economics at Barnard College in New York and a master’s degree in marketing and finance at Harvard Business School.

Outside Insights, Story, La Brea