Louise Pollock
Louise Pollock

The global pandemic has changed all aspects of normal living and ushered in an era where health and wellness are paramount decision drivers for the foreseeable future, especially when it comes to food and beverage choices. The ninth annual Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey, with 1,165 registered dietitian nutritionists responding, provides an in-depth look at what dietitians are hearing from consumers about how their diets have changed due to COVID-19.

The health revolution has exploded because of the pandemic, with the top findings for 2021 revealing a focus on foods that support immunity, are affordable and provide comfort, as well as a major shift in snacking habits. Changes to the top 10 superfoods list also indicate a move toward foods that are plant-forward and support health, with green tea, a natural anti-inflammatory beverage, jumping from number 10 last year to the number-three spot this year, and nutrient-rich spinach and leafy greens making their debut on the list. As consumers continue to search for diets that promote well-being and longevity, intermittent fasting surpasses the ketogenic diet as the number-one diet trend dietitians predict for 2021, and RDNs forecast consumers will be on the hunt for natural, clean labels and ingredients like cannabidiol (CBD), collagen and hemp.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '21 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

What does all this mean for food and beverage manufacturers and marketers? Here are three key takeaways to consider when developing communications strategies:

Consumer mindsets have changed

Understanding how the novel coronavirus has affected consumers is one of the biggest challenges facing food manufacturers and marketers today. With heightened concern for health and wellness and the reality of widespread financial hardship caused by the pandemic, consumers are rethinking every purchase. Decisions have been impacted by fears of illness and economic uncertainty, among other drivers. A year full of staying home and cooking more has also influenced consumers to reevaluate their food and nutrition choices. It’s imperative that food companies monitor this constantly evolving shift in the consumer mindset and continually adapt communications strategies to stay relevant during these unprecedented times and beyond.

According to our survey, because of the pandemic, 78 percent of RDNs believe that consumer eating habits are shifting away from the traditional three meals a day to more frequent snacking. In addition, with anxiety about health, wellness and the challenging economy looming in consumers’ minds, RDNs predict the top purchase drivers of 2021 will be foods and beverages that: support immunity, are affordable and value-based and promote comfort and emotional well-being.

In 2020, the food and beverage industry saw sales increases in anti-inflammatory beverages like green tea, as well as renewed attention on comforting, tried and true foods like dairy milk and healthy, fermented foods like yogurt. Our trends survey findings reflect that these top purchase drivers caused by COVID-19 will continue to impact consumer eating habits in 2021 and likely, for years to come. Food and beverage manufacturers and marketers need to reevaluate and highlight how their products fit into these drivers to engage and remain viable with consumers.

Be a valuable source of information

We are witnessing unprecedented times in the world of nutrition, health and wellness. As the world grapples with how to best manage health, enhance well-being, fight disease and promote longevity, consumers are turning more and more to digital platforms like Instagram, Facebook and blogs for nutrition information. According to our survey of RDNs, the top three sources consumers trust for nutrition information are: medical doctors, RDNs and people with similar experiences and success stories.

This provides an immense opportunity for the food and beverage industry to utilize social platforms and credible targeted influencers, like RDNs and other expert health care professionals, to help consumers navigate their shifting needs. Many companies already transitioned their 2020 marketing efforts to have a heavier focus on digital. It’s evident from the trends that this shift will continue in 2021 and beyond, as consumers have become even more accustomed to shopping and spending time online. Food companies must be willing to adapt to the new consumer mindset and leverage it to their advantage or risk losing business.

Keep the greater good in mind

It’s human nature to want to help others, especially in times of crisis. We have seen healthcare workers travel to different states to help hard-hit hospitals and volunteers assisting with food distribution at community centers. Conversely, we have seen the backlash against companies and individuals who were price gouging and taking advantage of the situation. With a greater emphasis on helping each other, consumers are more likely to purchase from food and beverage companies and brands that are giving back. According to GlobalWebIndex, 38 percent of global consumers said brands that helped people during the outbreak will influence which ones they buy from after the pandemic.

Good will matters and needs to be a component of food and beverage marketing programs. Consumers want to know that their purchases are making a difference and supporting companies who are contributing to a greater cause. There are many ways to give back, so be thoughtful and creative, keeping your brand authenticity and target audience in mind, like these brands:

  • Moon Cheese is encouraging consumers to nominate individuals helping on the front lines in need of some fuel and a smile. The brand is sending free samples of the healthy cheese snack as a gift of gratitude to nominated essential workers, as well as to food banks and many hospitals through a partnership with Founder’s Give.
  • Anheuser-Busch scrapped its 2021 Budweiser Super Bowl ad in favor of supporting the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative’s vaccine awareness initiative, donating money to go toward the organizations’ future ad campaigns.
  • Danone is donating $1.5 million to organizations making a local impact on food access in communities across the country as part of its mission to bring health through food to as many people as possible. The company has set up a plan to help farmers and supplier partners, as well.

Successful shifts in marketing campaigns will depend heavily on the authenticity of the effort. Brands must remain true to who they are and what they represent to their valued customers. Also, marketers must continue to monitor current news and events and adjust efforts as necessary, since the situation remains fluid and evolves rapidly. Being sensitive to consumer concerns is paramount in building and keeping trust and loyalty. Communications campaigns that leverage solutions to pandemic concerns and engage with consumers will help build brand loyalty during these troubling times and beyond. Having the right communications partner who understands and has had success in this market can help companies create and execute strategic platforms that deliver long-term results.


Louise Pollock is the President and Founder of Pollock Communications in New York City.