Americans want to learn more about the origins of their food and its entire journey from farm to fork, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, Washington, D.C. 

“Americans have a growing appetite for more information about their food, and technology is enabling eaters like never before,” says Joseph Clayton, chief executive officer. “It’s also driving transparency across the food supply chain.”      

IFIC Foundation predicts that 2019 will bring a larger focus on the food journey, greater attention to food safety and allergens, continued consumer concern about sugar and increased popularity of plant-based eating.

Discovering foods’ origins

Consumer interest and awareness of the origins of their food used to start and stop at the grocery store or restaurant. Today that’s a thing of the past. Consumers want to know how their food is produced, where it came from and the quality of the ingredients. They also have broader questions about environmental sustainability, and many seek brands that align with their broader social values.     

IFIC’s “2018 Food and Health Survey revealed over half of respondents indicate recognizing the ingredients, understanding where food is from and the number of ingredients as key factors that impact purchasing decisions. Women were more likely to rate these factors as more important when compared to men. In addition, compared to 2017, more Americans cited that understanding how the food is produced altered their decision to buy a food or beverage.

Tackling food safety with technology

Food safety concerns dominated the news last year, with food processors’ ability to detect contamination of food (i.e., traceability) improving dramatically.  

One technology that has improved rates of traceability is the whole-genome sequencing (WGS) technique, which generates the complete DNA sequence of an organism, allowing for distinction between and among different pathogens.

Food allergiesActions and reactions

WGS also stands to make positive contributions in the area of food allergens, such as peanuts. Using WGS data from patients with a peanut allergy might help identify peanut allergies in young babies before they can pose life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Additionally, WGS can be used to detect trace amounts of allergens in foods.

Expect these and other foods safety-related discussions to move closer to center stage in 2019.

There’s no sugar-coating this trend

According to the survey, sugar is to blame for packing on a few extra pounds, with 33% believing that it is the calorie source most likely to cause weight gain (up from 20% in 2012).

The sweet stuff remains top-of-mind for many Americans, and are responding to dietary guidance that recommends eating less added sugar. In fact, 77% say they are taking steps to limit or avoid sugars in their diet, and 59% view sugars negatively.

Voracious vegetarians and vegans

Plant-based eating is flourishing in American diets. While only 4% of Americans identify as vegetarians or vegans, according to the survey, many others cite following diets that are typically high in vegetables, such as paleo (7%), low-carb (5%), Whole30 (5%) and high protein (4%). Also, vegetables are the second most popular food or food component consumers seek to provide health benefits (7%), behind protein (10%). 

This interest in plant-based eating can also be applied to specific macronutrients. For example, nearly 70% of Americans stated that protein from plant sources is healthy, while less than four in 10 report that animal protein is healthy.