Trends · Industry Insights · 10min read

Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Surge in Demand for Healthy Foods

Consumers are turning to immune-boosting, natural, and organic ingredients.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the global food industry has been under tremendous pressure to adapt to changes in the market. This has encompassed tackling logistical and supply chain blockages imposed by closed border crossings, the rapid implementation of stringent, new hygiene measures in production facilities, overnight business model overhauls to circumvent offline sales channel shut-downs, and swift responses to changes in demand. The most notable shift in behaviour on the consumer front has been clearly visible on supermarkets’ empty shelves, particularly those for staples, such as pasta and flour. However, researchers and industry experts have observed a similar surge in demand for healthy foods. This significant spike in immune-boosting, natural, and organic product purchases directly correlates with the outbreak of the pandemic.

Changes in Consumer Behaviour

In March 2020, Nielsen Insights published six consumer behaviour thresholds of concerns related to COVID-19, highlighting the levels of consumption across markets. These are:

  1. Proactive health-minded buying
  2. Reactive health management 
  3. Pantry preparation 
  4. Quarantined living preparation 
  5. Restricted living 
  6. Living a new normal

The increased consumption of healthy foods and products containing natural ingredients falls under Nielsen’s first threshold.  Furthermore, Innova Insights Identified “In Tune with Immune” as one of the top food trends for 2021. Functional foods promoting immune health, such as beverages, cereals, dairy and sports products which include ingredients like botanicals, vitamins, minerals and probiotics. A study conducted by Ecovia Intelligence underlines that this behaviour not only holds true for a range of food-related categories but also for personal care products. Thus, we are witnessing a holistic lifestyle-encompassing attempt by consumers to protect and enhance their general health and wellbeing.


Healthy Food, Healthy Body

One of the keys to this equation is the increased awareness around the connection between nutrition and health. According to the vegan business magazine vegconomist, notable food industry data houses, including Tastewise, have registered and confirmed these findings in recent studies, “‘Immune system’ as a desired function of food and beverage is rising +66% MoM. Immunity, stress relief, medicinal benefits, and more are all skyrocketing. It is more important now than ever for food industry players to understand what solutions consumers look for in stressful times, and why.” 

Some larger, less digital, or ‘unhealthier’ businesses in the food industry have needed to rethink their business models to adapt to changes in the market imposed by the pandemic. However, actors already offering healthy products with agile, digital structures, such as plant-based food start-ups, have undoubtedly had the upper hand and demonstrated their resilience. 

“At foodcircle, we have observed a spike in demand for superfoods as well as immuno-protective and prebiotic ingredients first-hand. Since the start of the outbreak, a number of our clients have responded to the increasing demand for healthy foods. As consumer awareness around the connection between human health and food ingredients continues to rise, we expect this trend to continue to evolve. Our biggest hope is that it will shift from being a trend to becoming the norm in the years to come.

  • Jérôme Castellano, Head of Sales, foodcircle

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlights how some businesses and industries may, in turn, suffer from the consequences of these trends, “There is a possibility of a disproportionately larger decline in animal protein consumption (as a result of fears – not science-based – that animals might be hosts of the virus, and other higher-valued products like fish, fruits and vegetables (which are likely to cause price slumps).” Coronavirus outbreaks in meat processing facilities, such as a case in Münsterland, Germany, are certainly not helping this cause. Which segments in the industry are destined to be subjected to systemic shortcomings or long-term consumer mistrust remains to be seen.


Organic Food

Both Forbes and Ecovia Intelligence highlight the stark increase in registered sales for organic food companies, such as Nourish Organics (est. +30%) and Whole Foods Market. They also underline the simultaneous rise in the demand for organic vegetable boxes, such as Riverford, in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, many industry experts and research institutes across the globe expect the organic trend to continue to persist in upcoming years. In an exciting find, several sources, including the BBC and Natural Products Global, procure data highlighting the French organic market as having experienced the most notable surge in Europe. In the early days of the pandemic, some speciality organic food shops in France have experienced +40% increases in sales, which supports the theory that French consumers have taken to shopping at smaller local stores over large grocery stories during the pandemic. While the Soil Association revealed that, though the entire food industry has experienced a significant surge, the rising demand for organics outperformed growth that was measured for its non-organic counterpart and achieved the highest growth rate seen in 15 years in 2021. 

At foodcircle, we are thus more confident than ever that our organic, plant-based ingredient portfolio is destined to secure its foothold further with manufacturers across Europe. 

Interested in learning more about the market developments of some of these foods? Take a closer look at the superfoods market as well as the growing interest in probiotics and prebiotics.

Imagery: (1) Maja Petric (2) Neonbrand (3) Ola Mischenko via; (4)

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