Consumer Behavior in a Rapidly Changing World

broadhead's Emilie Hitch at Expo West

Consumer’s beliefs and behaviors shift just as fast as the complex natural products landscape innovates. How do people decide who to trust when everyone around them is saying something new? Navigating efficacy claims, new product innovations, and information about production and the environment, consumers all decide what’s real for themselves. Serving their needs will take a deep understanding of their shifting perceptions and concerns – and the ability to determine if their buying behavior is indeed influenced by who they trust and what they believe.

So, who will win in the future of food? We think companies who nail it when it comes to the following will lead the pack:

Rethinking sourcing:  It will be interesting to see how people look at traceability of various foods. General Mills and Danone are talking about Regenerative Agriculture. Dakota 44 promises traceable turkey products. Patagonia Provisions has a new certification process for Regenerative Organic foods… how far will consumers will go in investigating production and sourcing of more than just meat, and for that matter – more than just food?

Plant-based priced right: While organic foods have an initial pricing and perception barrier, plant-based foods do not. Will competitive pricing pave the way for plant-based foods to be adopted much more quickly?

The next great segmentation: Organic foods initially segmented the consumer market, Whole Foods cornering the share by using “organic” as a differentiating loss leader. Now, the Whole Foods and Costco customer are the same. What will be the next great divide? Plant-based? Carbon Neutral? Regenerative Organic? Whoever can package up the concept that food must also be better for the planet — and offer an easy way to choose those products — will win with climate-minded shoppers. 

A compelling carbon story: There are many points along the production, supply and processing chain that can be triggers for a great (or terrible) carbon story. Will people care about regenerative farming practices, carbon sequestration, or how far ingredients and foods travel to reach their dinner table?

Convenient Climate Diet: Brands need to get ahead of consumer knowledge. Consumers learned about how microorganisms in the gut benefit their health – learning about how microorganisms in the soil, or perennial grains with year-long live root systems like Kernza, benefit the planet won’t be a big stretch.  Yelp lets you search for women-owned businesses… why can’t online retailers let you search for carbon neutral or regeneratively farmed products?

Stability: The world’s food supply isn’t as stable as we think. Disruptions to transportation and production are not just about one virus — climate change and other factors will create stops and starts in the supply chain as well. Will continuing to stock up – like with the “pandemic pantry” – become the norm?

Flexibility: Take Daily Harvest as an example — you choose delivery frequency and what said delivery includes, from smoothies to soup. They’re not asking to be your only grocery stop, nor are they threatening you to give up your favorite dinner stop. They experiment with products all the time, nimbly switching recipes and product trials in and out of the rotation. And, while we’re at it, what about a carbon neutral subscription?

Reach out to our applied anthropologist Emilie Hitch to talk about plant-based perceptions, permaculture principles for business, consumer climate diets, food stability and safety, and how the carbon story will change the future of food.