What Fresh Foods Need Now to Capture Today's Health and Wellness Consumers

By Sally Lyons Wyatt and Jonna Parker

Adults under shelter-in-place orders gained nearly two pounds per month on average in 2020, according to a New York Times survey, and more than 40% of Americans say they've gained undesired weight since the start of the pandemic, according to a report from the American Psychological Association. With many consumers referring to those extra pounds as “the Covid 15,” it’s no wonder that, after multiple years of health and wellness being top of mind, 2020 only further strengthened consumers’ interest in adopting healthier habits.

As shoppers are now regularly seeking out new products that offer health, variety and innovation, retailers and manufacturers have a huge opportunity to shift focus and meet this change of pace, especially as consumer spending rebounds.

Several major themes accelerated in the fresh foods space in particular in 2020, and we expect these shifts to have a long-lasting impact on consumer baskets.

Health and Wellness Rising

Health is integral to fresh foods, and shoppers are increasingly seeking out foods and products that support wellness and vitality. According to wellness research conducted by the IRI Survey Team in late 2020, 56% of consumers believe meals made at home are healthier than those made from a restaurant.

As consumers start dining out more, retailers and manufacturers can capture consumer attention with health-forward products, especially now that consumers feel more comfortable browsing grocery aisles.

Claims are resonating with consumers across a wide variety of categories. IRI data shows that products with wellness claims focused on product origin, societal care or lifestyle diets saw significant growth throughout 2020.

In-store and online education plus transparency about products are also important in connecting with consumers who care about health, especially as new consumers who have become more aware of their health post-pandemic enter the marketplace. Younger generations especially continue to care about transparency in the products they choose.

Variety and convenience are also important to these health-focused shoppers; targeting them can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Rethinking fresh opportunities in each department can help retailers stand out from increasing competition. Introduce new meal-makers to anchor the basket, differentiate product selection and offer premium basket builders to find success with these health- and wellness-focused consumers and keep more of their dollars in the grocery store as restaurants re-open.

Continued Emphasis on Meals at Home Drives Beef and Seafood Growth

The number of at-home meal occasions has, not surprisingly, fallen as more consumers venture out, yet sales levels of beef and seafood are still higher than they were pre-pandemic – people are still spending more time at home overall due to remote and hybrid school and work. As we move through 2021, consumers that are continuing to focus on at-home meal-making will continue to drive growth in these areas.

The fresh food sector has been off to a strong start this year, especially in the beef and seafood categories, as consumers focus on protein as the center of the plate when preparing healthy meals at home. Fresh beef saw astronomical growth with $1.1 billion more in sales in the first quarter of 2021 than in the same quarter in 2019. Consumption of seafood has also greatly increased, with 26% higher dollar sales in Q1 2021 versus the previous year.

Fresh Opportunities Emerge in E-Commerce

Fresh food is literally everywhere now, and more channels keep vying for the consumer dollar. E-commerce has obviously seen massive growth in fresh food, raking in $10 billion in sales throughout the past year alone.

The increase in demand for online groceries during and after the pandemic has catapulted e-commerce three years into the future, especially when it comes to perishables. In fact, 83% of online grocery shoppers say they expect to continue shopping online more or about the same amount, even after becoming vaccinated or after restrictions are lifted, according to an IRI shopper survey conducted in March 2021.

Consumers are remaining loyal to their local preferred grocer when it comes to online grocery shopping, with 59% of fresh e-commerce sales coming from brick and mortar sites. Online signage and advertising that educate consumers about a product’s health attributes have become increasingly important for capturing health- and wellness-minded shoppers.

Ways to Win in Fresh

With heightened consumer awareness around the importance of health and well-being, informing consumers of the benefits of fresh with tailored messaging will have a great impact. And continuing to gain new insights into shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors is essential to developing targeted and relevant strategies to reach the right shoppers.

To learn more, watch our webinar and download the slides here, and view IRI’s latest self-care report.

With sustainability and transparency important to consumers, be sure to register for our upcoming “Top Trends in Fresh: Opportunities with Sustainability-Minded Consumers” webinar with FMI on July 21, 2021.

If you have any questions or would like to like to see how you can drive growth in or with the fresh aisle, view our Fresh Foods page, contact your IRI representative or reach out to

How can we help you supercharge growth and profitability?


95% of CPG, retail, and health and beauty companies in the Fortune 100 work with us

Answer the question below:
Is three < than three? (true/false)