Tap into the minds of rice eaters

Betsy Ward
By Betsy Ward
President and CEO
USA Rice

In 2019, USA Rice partnered with The Hartman Group to conduct multi-year research on rice consumption and consumer attitudes. We’ve just published the second report in our series looking at consumer trends in 2020 and 2021, and the data so far is truly fascinating, helping us answer the who, what, where, when and why of rice consumption. Much of this information includes things that many of you in the rice industry have intuitively known for a long time, and now we have solid data to back up these hunches and help guide us as we adapt alongside consumers. 

The data from this research is extensive and thorough and available for free to all USA Rice members. These are just a few of the insights I found the most interesting.

The bottom line is that U.S. consumers are eating more rice, and increasingly recognizing it as a food that fulfills a wide variety of their needs. Millennials (27-to 41-year-olds) are leading the way in rice consumption, and Generation Z (26 and younger) is increasing their rice consumption as they grow up. These younger consumers value health and nutrition, sustainability and the environment and exploring new and exciting cuisines. Encouragingly, the data shows that Millennials and Gen Z are choosing rice to cater to all three of these priorities. With one fell swoop, they’re improving their health, caring for the environment and eating adventurously, just by choosing rice. The data shows that word is getting out about our industry’s commitment to sustainability, and it is resonating with consumers; we absolutely need to keep up that momentum.

Consumers’ emotions

Another piece of this research that really struck me was how consumers’ emotions factor into their rice consumption. There’s more good news on this front: according to the data, consumers associate rice with feelings of social connection, health, delight and enjoyment. Consumers are turning to rice when they want to feel good, both mentally and physically, and when they want to socialize and impress others with their cooking. Anecdotally, this makes perfect sense — we all feel good when we eat rice — but this data really gets at the reason why. Whether it’s a simple comfort meal or a special celebratory dish shared with loved ones, rice is bringing out positive emotions in eaters.

Millennials lead the way in rice consumption.

Perhaps most exciting is the new data on rice consumption among children. Millennial and Gen Z parents are eating more rice themselves, but they’re also feeding it to their kids. These parents see rice as a versatile canvas that can be cooked many different ways, paired with all kinds of foods, and satisfies both picky and adventurous eaters. It’s also seen as a practical and cost-effective way to eat healthy, with research showing that young parents are using rice for leftovers and meal prepping. Interestingly, the data suggests that parents are using rice as both a familiar food and a way to introduce kids to new flavors and textures. And since rice is a staple in so many international and regional cuisines, many parents are also utilizing rice to connect children to their family heritage and emotionally bond during mealtimes.

Much of this we have either known or suspected in the rice industry for a long time, but this data shows that the message is truly resonating with consumers as well. These cutting-edge insights into consumer habits and preferences can help guide decision making, strengthen sales and marketing materials, influence engagement tactics and inform programming and messaging, keeping our industry agile and relevant in a rapidly changing world. We’ve already gotten so much value out of this research, and I look forward to discovering what additional insights our continuing work with The Hartman Group will yield. 

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