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IFT-DGA Virtual Conference Introduces Roadmap to the ‘Next Normal’ Amid Transformations in Consumer Behavior

CHICAGO, May 6, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, this week hosted a two-day virtual conference to examine the shift in consumer eating and shopping trends from pre-pandemic onward and provide insights on the “next normal.” New approaches were identified to better leverage the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines and encourage healthy habits among consumers as the country begins to reopen.

“Our research shows that most consumers see their health as a priority and claim to eat healthy most of the time, however to many of them, healthy simply means ‘fresh, but has no bad stuff,'” said Mintel Director of Innovations & Insights Lynn Dornblaser at the virtual conference. “As an example, while the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines have cut back recommended sodium and sugar consumption, these concerns are not trending among consumers.”

Dornblaser shared Mintel research that indicated there is a wide knowledge gap in terms of consumers’ understanding of what is “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Dornblaser predicts the trends of immunity-boosting foods, snacking and indulgent food consumption are here to stay. Along with health, consumers are increasingly concerned about strengthening their immunity, with 52 percent of respondents listing that as a “higher priority” in 2020.

“With consumer interest in health and nutrition at an all-time high, this is an important moment for the science of the food and nutrition community and healthcare professionals to communicate the importance of the Dietary Guidelines,” said IFT President Noel Anderson, PhD. “We have an opportunity, especially through food science and technology innovations, to enable consumers to enjoy healthy foods in a new way.”

USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Senior Policy Advisor Stephenie Fu shared consumer research on healthy eating habits across life stages. This research showed that consumers need easy-to-understand nutrition recommendations, which is why USDA and HHS adopted “Start Simple with My Plate” as their message for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“Consumers are looking for easy-to-understand nutrition recommendations and that desire fits with the message, ‘Start Simple with My Plate‘, that USDA and HHS have adopted for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” said Chair of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Barbara Schneeman, PhD. “It is a concept that allows consumers to incorporate healthy eating at any stage of life and make small tweaks that shift their food choices to a more healthful eating pattern. The Guidelines emphasize that small changes matter and consumers can begin making these changes at any point in their life to improve health. Tying this message into MyPlate is an effective framework for encouraging healthy eating patterns.”

Discussing the “State of the Plate,” The Institute of Food Technologists brought together a panel of nutrition experts, food scientists, and a behavior expert to examine these consumer trends further.

Panelists, whose backgrounds ranged from registered dietitians to principal scientists to policy advisors, emphasized the importance of bringing stakeholders across sectors to the table when it comes to educating consumers.

The group also noted the issue of access to federal programs due to lack of knowledge or resources. If food scientists, nutrition experts, physicians and other healthcare professionals work together to consistently educate patients on the dietary guidelines, they will be better equipped to develop healthier eating patterns, the panel concluded. 

North Carolina Food Innovation Lab Executive Director Bill Aimutis and North Carolina State University Extension Associate Megan Bame spoke about the potential for technical advances to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables. According to Bame, there are several barriers, both cultural and financial, in the United States that limit access to fresh produce; however, an increase in produce consumption could save the U.S. billions of dollars in medical costs and improved quality of life. Technologies such as the CRISPR/Cas9 Genome Editing Technique are being developed to improve both the shelf life and quality of fresh and minimally processed fruits and vegetables. These sorts of breakthroughs have the potential to increase Americans’ access to and consumption of produce.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, Americans also lack access to low-sodium and low-fat proteins. University of Massachusetts, Amherst Food Science Professor and Department Head Eric Decker discussed the benefits of healthy protein foods including plant-based protein, as these options have become more popular and easier to access. Mintel consumer research shows that the plant-based claim exceeded the vegetarian claim in new product introductions for the first time in 2020. Decker pointed out that plant-based options are healthier, have lower energy density, and are more ethically and sustainably produced than most animal products. 

The concluding panel addressed the need to meet the consumer where they are most comfortable, not attempt to convince them or prove them wrong. Overall, the panel agreed that a balanced approach combining proven science with effective communication is needed to reach consumers.

This event was funded by a grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA.

To learn more about upcoming IFT events, please visit iftevent.org.

About IFT
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a global organization of approximately 12,000 individual members from 95 countries committed to advancing the science of food. Since 1939, IFT has brought together the brightest minds in food science, technology and related professions from academia, government, and industry to solve the world’s greatest food challenges. Our organization works to ensure that our members have the resources they need to learn, grow, and advance the science of food as the population and the world evolve. We believe that science is essential to ensuring a global food supply that is sustainable, safe, nutritious, and accessible to all. For more information, please visit ift.org.

Contact: Winnie Branton, [email protected]

SOURCE Institute of Food Technologists