Rice Wins the Popularity Contest of Consumer Trends

By Cameron Jacobs, CAE
Domestic Promotion
USA Rice

Over the past three years, USA Rice has collaborated with The Hartman Group to delve into the trends and demographics surrounding rice consumption, offering valuable insights into the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of rice eaters. I have been presenting the findings of Hartman’s Rice Eating Occasions Report at the USA Rice Outlook Conference since the project began, but I wanted to share some key takeaways with you here.

You’ll be pleased to hear that consumers have a lot of positive things to say about rice.

To kick it off with some demographics, our research shows that Millennials and Gen Z are leading the way in “rice eating occasions” (individual moments when a consumer eats rice). Interestingly, if we narrow it down to brown rice, Gen Z consumption drops off dramatically, with Millennials still consuming the most brown rice, followed by Gen X in second place. Rice-eating occasions are also more likely to occur in cities and suburbs than rural areas and to take place among larger households, those with children, and those with higher income brackets — which speaks to rice’s versatility in meeting the unique needs of every member of a household. 

Now let’s get into some consumer sentiments, emotions, and motivators. Survey respondents overwhelmingly viewed rice as a simple, affordable, and natural food that complements all types of meals, including global flavors and local or seasonal ingredients. It meets a broad range of needs: consumers see rice as both a comfort food and a way to discover new and exciting cuisines. They choose rice because it is conducive to their dietary restrictions and health/fitness goals, or sometimes just because it gets the job done. The point is, no matter what a consumer needs or wants, rice fits the bill more often than not.

We all know that eating rice makes you feel good, and the data reflects that. Survey respondents associated rice with feelings of delight, health, and socialness. To the consumer, rice is a favorite food and a celebratory food, one that impresses guests and brings people together. It’s also convenient, which was a major trend in 2023. We saw significant growth in the importance of function and convenience to consumers as they resumed their pre-pandemic routines, so it makes sense that microwaving overtook stovetop as the preferred preparation method.

Rice clearly checks a lot of boxes, but there is one consumer need that truly stands out to me, and that is sustainability. 

Rice-eating occasions are more likely among consumers who are willing to pay more to support the environment. A staggering 46% (close to half!) of all rice eaters are motivated by sustainability concerns, and that is excellent news for the rice industry. We have a great story to tell there, and this research shows that it’s really resonating with consumers.

There is so much more information I wish I could include here, but after all, this is a column and not a research paper, so I strongly encourage you to visit usarice.com and download The Rice Eating Occasions Report. Please reach out if you’d like help delving into these findings in more detail.

For now, I’ll sum it up: 2024 is shaping up to be a great year for rice consumption across all age groups, and there are few food products that can capitalize on as many modern food trends as rice can. From sustainability to affordability, consumers are reaching for rice to satisfy a wide range of needs, and that’s good news for the industry.

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