Carol Wong-Li
Carol Wong-Li is Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure for Mintel. Carol researches and writes reports on the Canadian lifestyle and leisure industries.

The consumer approach to healthy eating has always been about balancing aspirational goals with making realistic choices. Uncertain times mean there’s comfort in the familiar and a need for validating choices – both healthy ones and treats for mental relief as consumers need small wins right now. For brands, it’s time to think more about cross-category collaborations and brand extensions as people look to address their health in a more well-rounded way.

The appetizer

The pandemic has vastly impacted the physical context surrounding eating – everything from where we are eating, to when, why, or how often we are eating, even to who we are eating with – yet the majority of Canadians feel their approach to healthy eating hasn’t changed since the onset of the outbreak.

Good intentions don’t always align with real-life choices as seen with the majority of Canadians are targeting eating healthy foods most of the time and Statistics Canada reporting that 63% of Canadians were overweight or obese in 2018.

The Entrees

Balancing big intentions with small changes

Healthy eating has always been about balancing needs. Good intentions don’t always align with real-life choices as emotional needs sometimes demand otherwise. Realistically, consumers’ proverbial ‘plates’ have always been full, making big changes unappealing and thus unlikely. Yes, consumers need more guidance and encouragement than ever before, but help needs to come in the form of nudges like rewards, and resources and products need to easily fit into their existing lives.

Functional benefits are necessary to validate food choices

Consumers float between the motivation to eat healthfully and needing a break in the form of treats. As nearly two-thirds of Canadians feel that comfort foods can be healthy, focusing on functional benefits that address broader wellness areas (like anxiety or inability to fall asleep) will matter more in helping to validate choices – even if the product is more about enjoyment and indulgence, like ice cream.

Lean into familiar ingredients that stay fresher longer

The current self-protection mode is driving Canadians to shop less frequently at physical stores where possible. With Canadians making less frequent grocery trips, there is a greater focus on foods that stay fresher for longer. This shift in what they buy influences the ingredients they use; thus the foods cooked at home likely also look slightly different than pre-pandemic.

According to Mintel research on cooking enthusiasts, Canadian home cooks are creatures of comfort, preferring to cook with familiar recipes and ingredients. Moreover, Canadians are feeling even less adventurous right now, seen with a shift in sentiments towards Mintel’s Trend Pillar, ‘Adventure’, where the proportion of Canadians who say they love trying new experiences dropped from 73% at the end of 2019 to 67% in July 2020. Economic uncertainty also reduces the appeal of taking food risks like new cooking experiments, given a need to stretch ingredients and a desire to minimize food waste. As such, adding a little adventure or newness needs to be grounded in the known. As discussed in the Mintel 2021 Food & Drink Trend, ‘Quality Redefined’, consumers are still looking to shake up home routines while fulfilling the dueling needs of time-savings and creativity.

The dessert

18-34s are image-heavy, nutritional knowledge ‘lite’

18-34s lack clarity on making healthy food choices. While this may be due, in part, to their lesser likelihood to be responsible for grocery shopping or cooking for a household, greater reliance on image-heavy platforms may be leaving them ‘lite’ on nutritional content and knowledge.

Brands need to do a better job of meeting young consumers where they’re at. There’s an urgent need to address this as parents with young children will struggle to pass on knowledge of healthy eating to the next generation.

For more information on the attitudes toward healthy eating in Canada, buy the comprehensive report by going to the Mintel Store here!