Healthier lines key to unlocking growth

Healthy eating: fruit

New research from IGD suggests putting healthy eating on the menu would encourage a third of consumers to consume food out of the home more often.

One-third (31%) of consumers would eat out of home more often if healthier options were more readily available, according to new IGD research into the out-of-home market. Interest in healthy eating is on the rise and so is eating out of home. The research examines the relevance of health on these occasions and how consumers balance nutritional aims with the desire for a treat. The research comprised an online survey of more than 9,100 people, plus qualitative tracking of consumers’ out-of-home eating experiences.

Joanne Denney-Finch, Chief Executive of IGD, said: “Our new research, the first of its kind into the out-of-home sector, focuses on two powerful trends at play in today’s market: eating out, and eating well. Eating out of home plays a significant part in the national diet and at the same time, interest in health and eating healthily is growing. Many food and drink companies already view health as a hugely important part of their strategy, but there is a clear commercial opportunity for businesses to take the lead in this area. Our findings signpost how companies can make the most of these two mega trends as they continue to come together.”

Rhian Thomas, Head of Shopper Insight at IGD, commented: “Health is rarely the number-one factor when people eat out and yet it widely influences behaviour and was regularly mentioned by the consumers we spoke to. Even when people are not actively seeking healthy choices, they avoid some outlets and menus viewed as too unhealthy; one-third (34%) avoid eating in certain places for this reason. Also, people may limit their eating out occasions if they associate this with over-indulgence.”

Four key areas of influence

There are four main factors that influence people’s decisions when eating out of home. The first is occasion, i.e. day of week and time of day. Regular occurrences such as workday lunches are more functional and controlled whereas weekend dinners are usually seen as special occasions and the time for a treat. The second is companionship i.e. who people eat with, if anyone. On their own, people tend to stick to regular choices, whereas in a group, they are more likely to try new things or visit different places. The third area is mood, i.e. the difference between a functional need and an emotional one. Finally, the research saw the influence of speed and convenience. Some out-of-home eating decisions are made in time-pressed circumstances where people need easy choices, whereas others are relaxed occasions.

Barriers and solutions

IGD’s research highlights four barriers preventing health from having more of an influence on people when they eat out:

Value perceptions

Over half (59%) of consumers feel it’s more expensive to eat healthily when out of home. The industry therefore has lots of scope to show consumers how they can eat healthily on a budget.

Confusion about messaging

If health information is not presented in a consistent way, it can sometimes confuse and lead to wrong choices. The food industry therefore has an opportunity to continue the work it has already started on refining its messaging to consumers.

The effort to pursue health

The research shows that when grabbing food on the go, people usually revert to the easiest option, so if finding something healthy requires special effort they are less likely to do so. When offered a range of options to make finding healthy food easier, the largest proportion of consumers recommended a dedicated selection of healthy options clearly marked in-store or on the menu (35%). The answer for different retailers could vary by format, customer base and even time of day, to make it as simple as possible to signpost consumers to seek out healthier options.

Takeaway food culture

Takeaway missions have the lowest explicit levels of consideration around health. However, expanded home delivery and takeaway options could shift this perception over time.

Rhian Thomas said: “There is scope to encourage some people to eat out more frequently by offering a broader range of healthy options and meeting specific dietary claims, with 30% of consumers looking for more vegetarian options, 22% for more dairy-free choices and 20% for a larger vegan range (IGD ShopperVista Food-to-go, Q2 2017).

“There’s also an opportunity to reposition the language of health. Many consumers view healthy eating as a sacrifice but there is scope to break this association, by showing that healthy food can taste good and make you feel good too. This requires hitting the right emotional notes, for example, giving healthy ingredients ‘hero status’, using enticing language and visuals to excite the senses and creating a sense of theatre around preparation.

“Thirdly, some stores could build a reputation for leading the market on healthy choices, but this needs to be done in a skilful way, without switching off those who don’t want health messages to be too intrusive.

“Finally, there are opportunities to vary the offer and target certain demographic groups, locations and occasions when people are most concerned with healthy eating. For example, families with young children are particularly keen to see a wider choice of affordable, healthy choices in their area. If the barriers and solutions our research identifies are tackled over time, then there are clearly huge commercial opportunities for food and drink companies looking to bring together the two powerful trends of eating out and eating well.”