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Information and the erosion of consumer choice

Published under consumer trends , fmcg , food and drink
Written by Rachel Cristofoli

Innate nosiness and an interest in all things food and drink, both healthy and unhealthy, are no doubt why I ended up in the job I did.  I've been researching food and drink products for over 25 years.

It’s more important than ever for food and drink researchers like the team here at Market Measures to stay abreast of trends in the industry to remain relevant to our clients’ businesses and their innovation potential. But it gets harder and harder to keep up with everything that’s going on. So, if it’s difficult for those of us with a professional interest, then it got me thinking about how hard it has become for the average consumer.

We are bombarded with information about the state of our health, our diet and lifestyles along with food labelling and messaging about what we should or shouldn’t be putting in our mouths. So who are we to believe? The Government, the celebrity chef, the industry lobbyist, the food evangelist, the food manufacturer, the farmer … ? The list goes on.  Is it any wonder the consumer is confused?

Not so long ago there was a discussion on the table around ’activity equivalents’ which put a case forward for food labelling to indicate the amount of exercise required to burn off the associated calorie content. A 20 minute stroll is apparently equivalent to a can of Coke.  I won't start on the questions that immediately spring to mind on reading this statement, but it does illustrate nicely the way in which we can be presented with things that are supposed to help inform our choices. 

The reality is that not everyone necessarily needs or wants to know all this stuff.  My teenage son takes a pretty healthy interest in the nutritional content of the food and drink he consumes.  Yet he recently commented that “sometimes you just really don’t want to know what's in everything you eat.  It totally stops you from enjoying it, especially if it's supposed to be a treat.”  And he has a point. 

This information overload, as I see it, has a huge impact on how he makes his food choices. He's on the cusp of Gen Y and Gen Z, and it makes me question what relationship his generation as a whole will have with the food and drink they choose to put in their mouths in the future.  They are questioning and changing their diets at a rate of knots and I wonder when, or if, this will slow down.  The barrage of messages we are exposed to today makes it almost impossible to turn a blind eye, however much we may want to.  Our food and drink habits can no longer simply be defined by whether or not we're an 'eat to live' kind of person or a 'live to eat' foodie type; there's now way too much going on in the middle ground for it to be that straightforward. 

So what does this mean for food and drink brands?  Well, like everything else, time will tell, but in my view the successful brands of the future will be the ones that are able to innovate in such a way that they are able to cut through the 'mess in the middle' by offering relevant choices to consumers but in as straightforward a way as possible.  By keeping up, but by keeping it simple.

Food for thought.