Canadians are Going Back to the [Food] Basics

Canadians are Going Back to the [Food] Basics

Leading a healthy lifestyle remains top of mind for consumers globally, and Canadians are no exception. And while there is no universal definition for what “healthy” means, most people focus on products and services that deliver the best for their families, and that’s a key driver of shopping behaviour.

Awareness about product ingredients is a key trend as Canadians strive to eat healthier. In fact, more than half (56%) of respondents in a recent Nielsen survey said that they actively seek out and purchase products that protect their family’s health. Understanding and embracing what consumers value the most will lead to better product decision making and more targeted innovation.

So what makes a meal healthy? According to the survey, 54% of consumers are looking for more fruits and vegetables. Consumers are also mindful of moderating how much of certain ingredients are in the products they buy: 49% are looking for products with less sugar, 32% seek out less salt, 23% are drawn to small portions (23%), and 27% are driven by the presence of natural ingredients.

But are attitudes driving behaviour? In fact, they are! Dollar sales of vegetables are growing at 6% compared to a year ago, and fruit is right behind at 4%. Some of the growth reflects a bump in prices from last year, but volume (in kilograms) is growing for most of these categories as well, meaning that consumers are putting more of these items in their shopping baskets.

But it’s not just about moderation. Canadian consumers are increasingly mindful of avoiding ingredients they deem undesirable. And across the spectrum of ingredients that consumers are seeking to avoid, one word prevails: artificial. Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavours, and colours all make the top 10 of ingredients we want less of in the foods and beverages we consume.

The survey and spending trends outline a clear theme. Consumers are taking a “back-to-basics” approach, which means they’re seeking foods in their original forms without anything added not much subtracted. We see buying patterns in line with this thinking across the store. For example, sales of both plant-based beverages and natural peanut butter increased 7% in the 52 weeks ended March 31, 2018.

But consumers aren’t just influenced by ingredient listings. We’re also driven by the characteristics and attributes that are associated with the products we consider. And that means perceptions are just as important as physical attributes. For example, consumers value transparency and appreciate manufacturers that communicate their product benefits as clearly as possible. Again, made from vegetables and fruit lead the way (70%), joined by low sugar (70%) and fiber claims (70%).

At the end of the day, retailers and manufacturers that keep these key trends in mind will keep their customers happy (and healthy). When it comes to trends to mind in 2018, the best course of action is to keep it simple and exclude ingredients that consumers view as undesirable.


The insights in this article were derived from the following sources:

  • Nielsen’s Happy Healthy Home 2018 online survey of 5,810 Canadian consumers on healthy matters influencing their purchases, conducted in March 2018.
  • Nielsen MarketTrack, 52 weeks ended March 31, 2018.