Young adults plan to balance their comfort food consumption by adding more plant-based and functional foods this year, according to a new survey from The Food Group.
The food and beverage marketing agency surveyed 200 adults ages 21 to 40 across the United States and found nearly half plan to purchase more plant-based products, even though the majority identified as meat eaters or flexitarians. Nearly 6 in 10 plan to increase their functional food purchases, with fruits, vegetables, seafood and nonalcoholic beverages like coffee, tea and kombucha among the top categories they’re likely to choose.
Still, The Food Group expects the pandemic-driven comfort food trend will continue in 2022, with 33% of respondents planning to eat more comfort food this year and 44% planning to eat about the same amount as last year. Two-thirds of consumers said they eat comfort food three or more days per week.
Pizza, tacos and fried chicken were among the top comfort foods, but Gen Z and millennial shoppers plan to balance them with plant-based options, such as topping their pizza with meat-free pepperoni or sausage, according to the survey. Ice cream, cookies and donuts were among the top sugary/dessert items, while potato chips, beef jerky and popcorn were favorites in the savory/salty snack category.
The vast majority (98%) of respondents said it is at least somewhat important to eat functional foods, and 78% indicated it is extremely or very important.
Functional foods and plant-based alternatives were especially important for consumers ages 21 to 30. More than half (51%) said they ate more functional foods in the last two years, compared to 43% of consumers ages 31 to 40. Younger respondents also are more likely to focus on making healthier options this year, with 66% of consumers ages 21 to 30 planning to increase their intake of functional foods, compared to 53% of consumers ages 31 to 40.
Overall, 80% of respondents regularly purchase at least one plant-based meat or dairy alternative, with almond milk, vegetable/bean-based products, nondairy creamer, grain-based products and nondairy ice cream among the most popular items. Forty-four percent of respondents said they will purchase more plant-based products this year, and that number was even higher for consumers ages 21 to 30 years old (57%).
“The survey results indicate the growth of the plant-based industry is not slowing down,” says Mark Cotter, chief executive officer at The Food Group. “Consumers are considering a variety of factors when it comes to food — not just price and taste, but also nutrition, sustainability and how it fits into their lifestyle. ‘Functional comfort foods’ will continue to be the trend as consumers look for ways to enjoy their favorite foods, but with more mindful ingredients.”