Elvia Rangel started buying products without sugar and with less saturated fat for her two and 12-year-old children in 2020. She did so after starting to follow a pediatrician on social networks who shared and commented on food information in the midst of the health confinement that she sought to reduce the covid-19 contagion curve. “I saw how commonly consumed products, such as cup gelatin, contain between three and four tablespoons of sugar,” says the 34-year-old mother.
But cutting out sugary gelatin from her children’s diet wasn’t the only change Rangel made to her shopping list after the virus hit. It also opted to replace foods with more than two stamps on their label, such as cookies; introduce natural fruits in some recipes, such as bananas in pancakes, and experiment with cauliflower rice.
Rangel’s story is not isolated. At the beginning of the pandemic, people surveyed globally by the EY consultancy for the preparation of the Index on the Future of the Consumer considered that ‘the way of eating’ would be one of the biggest changes they would make in their habits as a result of covid- 19.
In Mexico, this trend was fueled by the implementation of a new food labeling standard that came into force in October 2020. Overnight, 90% of the products on the shelves had at least a stamp that warned about a high content of calories, salt, sugar or fat, or even legends about caffeine or sweeteners.
Yanira Reyes, Analytics Leader at Nielsen IQ, comments that in the midst of the sudden search for healthier eating, there were categories that recorded double-digit growth during the months of confinement. According to Nielsen, sales of plant-based fresh meat alternatives increased by double digits. There was also a growing interest in socially responsible brands and local products, while those foods and drinks that had a healthy image, and had to put two or more seals on the packaging, took a hit.
Large food and beverage companies quickly adjusted their product offerings, either by launching new presentations made from plant protein or by adjusting some formulas to reduce the amount of sodium, sugar or fat. Towards the end of 2020, the proportion of products without seals or with a seal was 30% of the total; whereas now it has risen above 35%, according to the Nielsen IQ measurement. “Companies realized that the performance of their products (with various labels) was being lower. Seven months after the implementation, practically 20% of the manufacturers had reduced one stamp on their packaging,” says Reyes.
Nestlé and Kellogg’s added boxed cereals without warning labels to their portfolio, while PepsiCo reformulated 70% of its products. Until now, neither of the two companies has revealed the investments in this area.
Bimbo also reformulated 82% of its portfolio. Days before the implementation of the labeling, the company announced that its main products, that is box bread and buns, would not have labels, while there would be versions without labels in the categories of toasted bread, breading products and flour tortillas. . Arca Continental, for its part, presented a sugar-free version of Coca-Cola in June 2021.
But after the relaxation of sanitary measures and the recent inflationary phenomenon, the opportunity for some categories that gained strength during the pandemic to achieve greater penetration in all Mexican households is blurred. Yanira Reyes, from Nielsen IQ, details that, since the implementation of the new labeling in October 2020 to date, products without seals registered a 6% increase in value -because their price is higher-, although in volume they accumulate a fall of 1%.
“These are not trends that can be adopted by the entire population, because they are brands in which we generally see an overprice and given the economic conditions of the country, we are far from there being a mass use of these trends,” says Reyes. “Although we see willingness to purchase above 20 points in these products, they will maintain a penetration below 10% (of households). Perhaps, under other conditions, there would be much more fertile ground for this type of product,” he adds.
The return to normality… And to street food
Although this year the conversation on the internet is still committed to healthier ways of eating -data from the Mexican Association of Online Sales (AMVO) show that the discussion about cereals and grains have a proportion of 34% of the talks about food, followed by 20.6 % of publications related to fruits-, the old trends and eating habits come back like a boomerang.
Adrián Ávalos, Out Of Home & Usage Food Manager of the Worldpanel division of Kantar México, comments that with the return to offices and schools of consumer trends, the eating habits of 2019 also return. “We see that the The health issue is becoming less and less relevant: the Mexican economy is not doing well and people have chosen to try to feed themselves with what they can afford”, declares the specialist.
The octagonal stamps that warn about the high content of sugars, fats and sodium in food and non-alcoholic beverages are no longer the main criteria for purchasing decisions. “The labeling did not really massively modify the way in which we Mexicans make purchase decisions,” adds the specialist.
24% of Mexicans recognize in a survey by the market research and data analysis firm YouGov that they have not seen changes in their eating behavior at home in the last year, while the analysis of the consulting firm Nielsen IQ shows that the consumption of snacks, confectionery, chocolates and candies has remained stable in the last two years, regardless of the stamps, because consumers were not really surprised to learn that a bag of potato chips had two or three stamps and they did not expect a reduction in them.
In the case of beverages, according to the AMVO study, today the largest number of publications is about alcoholic beverages, with 50% of the conversation, and in second place about coffee, with 34%. Hardly anyone talks about the importance of drinking water, at least not on the internet.
When it comes to grocery shopping, Elvia Rangel assures that she still considers the nutritional seals as a guide for her children’s food, and says that she stopped consuming those products with more than two nutritional warning seals. Out of her cart were processed fruit juices and sweets, and she changed brands of yogurt and honey, but she admits she went back to buying chocolate and hazelnut cream.