The 2020 Food Packaging & Consumer Behavior Report
For consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, understanding the evolution of consumer behaviors and trends has always been a foundational element of success. There is no question, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted consumer patterns/behavior like never before. According to Nielsen research, 54% of Americans are cooking more now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to leverage the increased demand for food products, savvy CPG brands are exploring every vehicle to ensure their product(s) is what lands in customers’ shopping carts – both in-person and online. As a premium food packaging solutions provider, Shorr understands the critical role packaging plays in the process of conveying the value of food products to consumers.
As such, Shorr developed the first annual Food Packaging & Consumer Behavior Report by surveying +1,100 U.S. consumers about their in-store and online food product shopping behaviors. This data provides a glimpse into how U.S. shoppers are adjusting their shopping habits and highlight the ways food brands can communicate the value of their products through innovative packaging.
According to the U.S. consumers surveyed, food packaging and food labels are incredibly important to their food product purchasing decisions. Indeed, when asked to rate the importance of food packaging and food labels on their purchasing decisions, 34% of respondents responded with a 10/10 (extremely important). 69% of respondents chose an importance rating of 7 or above. Additionally, 70% of respondents stated they either "always" read food labels or read them "most of the time" while shopping at the grocery store.
COVID-19 Purchasing Habits
It’s clear the pandemic has caused disruptions across nearly every aspect of life, including seismic shifts in how consumers are shopping for groceries and CPG food products. In fact, 61% of respondents stated their purchasing habits over the previous 3 months have vastly changed the way they will shop for food items in the future.
As CPG brands weigh strategies to increase sales and consumer behavior continues to shift, it’s clear from our report that food packaging and food labels play a very significant role in influencing which brands find their way into consumers’ homes. In fact, 66% of respondents who identified changes in their purchasing behaviors (as a result of the pandemic) said they will pay more attention to food labels and food packaging moving forward.
Additionally, 47% of respondents purchased brands in the past 3 months that they were previously unfamiliar with, specifically due to the product’s packaging. The behavioral shifts in grocery shopping will seemingly have a lasting impact — with 88% of respondents stating they plan on purchasing those same food products again in the foreseeable future.
There are a number of factors consumers cite as the reason they are likely to re-purchase previously unfamiliar food products, including:
- The packaging’s unique design (28% of respondents)
- The product’s eco-friendly packaging (27% of respondents)
- The language on the food product’s label (23% of respondents)
- The size of the packaging (17% of respondents)
- The color of the packaging (4% of respondents)
The Influence of Popular Food Label Phrases
64% of the U.S. consumers surveyed paid more for a food product that featured popular food label phrases. Respondents were then asked to select the food label phrases that are currently influencing their purchasing behaviors. Below is a list of those terms ranked from most to least important:
- 48% - “Fresh”
- 45% - “No Sugar Added”
- 41% - “All-Natural/Natural”
- 37% - “Whole Grain/Multigrain”
- 37% - “Organic”
- 30% - “Sugar-Free”
- 29% - “Good Source of Fiber”
- 28% - “Low Fat/Fat-Free”
- 28% - “Natural Flavors”
- 27% - “GMO-Free”
- 22% - “Free-Range”
- 20% - “Grass-Fed”
- 16% - “Gluten-Free”
- 11% - “Ready-Made”
Despite the respondents’ low appreciation for labels with the term “ready-made”, 42% of respondents purchased more food products labeled “pre-cooked", "ready-made" or "stovetop-ready” over the previous 3 months.
Respondents aged 30-44 are most likely (71%) to pay more money for a product based on popular food labeling terms, followed by 18-29 (64%), 60+ (61%), and 45-60 (60%).
Conversely, over 1/3rd of respondents (36%) conveyed that they have avoided purchasing food products that display popular phrases commonly found on food labels. Notably, male consumers were 8% more likely to avoid food products with popular terms on the label.
Factors playing a role in the avoidance of products with popular terms on the label:
- The perceived or actual increased cost of the items (38% of respondents)
- Fear of the claim being misleading (34% of respondents)
- Unfamiliarity with the brand (18% of respondents)
- Confusing language on the label (10% of respondents)
Food Packaging Builds Trust
While it’s clear that popular phrases are influencing consumers, it’s vital that CPG food brands not mislead consumers in an attempt to leverage the positive customer sentiment surrounding these phrases – in addition to several other variables. Indeed, a majority of consumers surveyed (64%) have felt “duped” or “misled” by the food packaging of items that they’ve purchased.
Elements of food packaging and food labels that build trust with the consumer:
- Ingredient list (49.5% of respondents)
- Brand/logo (16% of respondents)
- Price (15% of respondents)
- Popular food label phrases (11.5% of respondents)
- Reviews on packaging (7% of respondents)
- Recycling symbols (1% of respondents)
Sustainable Packaging Purchase Habits
Despite the low correlation reported between consumer trust and food packaging recyclability, sustainable packaging is still a largely influential factor in the consumer’s purchase decision — with 58% of respondents stating they are “likely” or “very likely” (on a scale of “not likely” to “very likely”) to purchase food products that clearly state the packaging is recyclable or reusable.
Nearly half of respondents (46%) are willing to pay more for food products that clearly state the packaging is recyclable or reusable — with respondents aged 18-29 being most likely (51%) and respondents aged 60+ being least likely (41%).
Additionally, 76% of respondents felt that foods that are marketed as “healthier” should also have sustainable packaging.
68% of respondents stated they would be more interested in purchasing food products that provide specific steps on how to recycle the packaging, and 54% of respondents stated they would be more willing to leave a review for a food product if the packaging provided specific steps on how to recycle the packaging.
Online Grocery Shopping & Food Packaging
As behavioral shifts in retail shopping occurred during the past six months, consumers sought safer ways to shop — as illustrated by 51% of respondents stating they've used Instacart, Postmates, Amazon Fresh, Walmart Grocery, Cornershop, or other 3rd-party grocery apps in the previous 3 months to purchase food items online.
However, online grocery shopping adoption wasn’t consistently high across the board, with only 37% of respondents aged 60+ buying groceries online – compared to 60% of respondents aged 30-44 and 57% of respondents aged 18-29.
The impact of food packaging isn’t only felt on the grocery shelf, however, as illustrated by 62% of respondents stating they’ve used 3rd-party grocery apps over the last 3 months to purchase new/unfamiliar food brands based solely on the item’s packaging/appearance. Nearly half of all respondents (48%) anticipate purchasing new/unfamiliar products when using grocery apps, at least in part, based on their packaging/appearance.
Respondents aged 18-44 are much more inclined (57%) to purchase food items online based on the products’ appearance when compared to respondents aged 45-60+ (39%).
According to April 2020 research conducted by IRI, price increases, purchase limits, and e-commerce delays frustrate consumers, even as they are becoming slightly less anxious about COVID-19. Our data have revealed that the packaging of food products also can play a role in consumer frustration as they shop online for food products — with 49% of respondents stating they’ve felt disappointed or frustrated with an item they purchased online due to the food packaging or labeling not matching the image displayed online.
According to Regan Leggett, Executive Director, Nielsen Global Intelligence, “[...] consumers will be seeking greater assurance that the products they buy are free of risk and of the highest quality when it comes to safety standards and efficacy, particularly with respect to cleaning products, antiseptics and food items.“ As consumers continue to gauge which products to bring into their homes, food packaging design, packaging safety, and sustainable packaging will all play a central role in their decision-making process, as illustrated by this report.
To learn how Shorr Packaging partners with food companies to provide solutions for package design and production, procurement and sourcing, shipping, freight logistics, warehousing, and inventory management:
Total Respondents: 1,128
Margin of Error: +/- 2.98%
Respondents Age: 18 – 29 (26%), 30 – 44 (22%), 45 – 60 (34%), 60+ (18%)
Age Balancing: Basic Census
Respondents Gender: 44% Male, 56% Female
Gender Balancing: Census
Country: United States
Respondents Regions: New England (5.15%), Middle Atlantic (12.39%), East North Central (13.92%), West North Central (5.79%), South Atlantic (22.24%), East South Central (3.8%), West South Central (10.94%), Mountain (6.69%), Pacific (19.08%)