CHICAGO — Wellness impacts 21% of all eating occasions, according to new data from The NPD Group. 

“US consumers succumbed to emotional eating in the early stages of the pandemic and ate indulgent foods to help them deal with the stressful situation,” according to NPD. “Now, with consumers more settled and accustomed to preparing more meals in their homes, health and wellness have become more significant drivers of their eating choices.”

The new data is included in a report, America’s Health Pulse: Closing the Gap Between Wants and Needs.   

Four macro needs drive all consumption, according to the report: fueling, wellness, connecting, and gratifying. Fueling is the top driver influencing 33% of all eating occasions.  

The need for wellness grew throughout the pandemic and is second to fueling as a consumption driver. With most meals sourced from home — a behavior established long before the pandemic — NPD expects wellness as a consumption driver to remain elevated into the foreseeable future. Wellness as a consumption driver varies by meal and snack times and generational health goals, the report details.    

Although consumers seek wellness overall, they are also homing in on specific areas. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new focus on the food as medicine movement. Concern over the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus led many to consider their food choices to help build immunity.  

The importance of strong immunity remains a top wellness focus from a holistic standpoint rather than specifically fighting the virus. Foods and ingredients that build immunity, like elderberry, jackfruit, and bone broth, are popular with consumers. Additionally, the aging boomer population is looking to food as medicine to find remedies to either cure or manage health conditions.   

Consumers customize their health and wellness eating goals with a variety of tools, according to NPD. These include social media and following social media influencers, personalized eating and fitness plans from healthcare providers or trainers, apps and technology-enabled exercise equipment, and forecasting health using genetic markers.  

“The pattern of consumer attention to health and wellness shows increasing awareness and adaptation across the board,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at NPD and author of America’s Health Pulse report. “This means consumers no longer think of health and wellness as an add-on, but as an integrated part of how they live their lives; that, in turn, opens opportunity for brands to become a permanent solution.”