The popularity of “diet foods” is fading fast. Consumers are now looking for a more holistic approach to health and wellness, with a focus on fresher and more natural ingredients. Recent Mintel data supports the changing dieting landscape, noting that consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical about diet products, and turning to a well-balanced eating plan and purchasing products that support improved health instead. In fact, of the 2,000 individuals surveyed, 94 percent of respondents no longer saw themselves as dieters – a significant shift from the days when Jenny Craig and NutriSystem commercials dominated our favorite television programs.
Given this shift in consumer behavior, and the overall decline in dieting, food companies have been forced to reevaluate how to best market their products, looking toward a more holistic approach to health. For example, Lean Cuisine has put new labels on products that were already cholesterol-free or gluten-free without changing product formulation, because these terms help to reinforce the holistic health message that consumers now so desperately seek. Similarly, Weight Watchers’ point system now emphasizes “natural” fare and home-cooked meals. Terms like all natural, gluten-free, no preservatives, antibiotic-free, and non-GMO are popping up on labels left and right, and have become key buzz words in the media. The result? Consumers now have a new standard when it comes to purchasing food – one of health and quality.
At this year’s recent Natural Products Expo West conference in Anaheim, CA, holistic health was top of mind for many leading food companies. When Miguel Garza, co-founder and CEO of Siete Family Foods, was asked to predict upcoming trends for the food and beverage industry, he noted that “I think you’ll continue to see real food, less processed… Just making food that the consumers need and that provide a holistic benefit.”
An example of a company that exhibited at Natural Products Expo West, and one focused on holistic health, is Berkeley, CA based REBBL. The company manufactures ready-to-drink organic beverages using adaptogenic herbs like turmeric, reishi mushrooms, maca, and ashwagandha. Other companies at Natural Products Expo West that place a focus on holistic health include Back to the Roots, a maker of cereal and snacks using biodynamic ingredients. The company motto is to “undo food” via ready to grow and ready to eat products. In the same vein, Dang Foods seeks to bring more diverse plant-based foods to consumers with its sticky-rice chips and coconut chips, and chia-seed bar company Health Warrior is built on the mission that better health will build a better society.
While some consumers are turning to holistic health because its considered “trendy” – just like the low-fat and Atkins diets were years ago – others are turning to holistic health to aid in disease prevention and management. Data from the Food Marketing Institute shows that 230 million individuals will be living with chronic illnesses by 2030. This has also contributed to the increase in consumers making holistic health and self-care a top priority. It is important to note this distinction between holistic health as a trend and holistic health as a disease prevention and management tool, as food companies will need to cater to both groups.
As a Registered Dietitian, it has been interesting to see holistic evolve, and I have seen my own friends and family latch on to what I like to call “clean eating.” I have friends that avoid gluten and lactose because they feel it contributes to IBS, a cousin with arthritis who has found success on a gluten-free diet, and know of many people who have given up on “dieting” in favor of overall balanced, healthful eating. Consumers, and the food industry, are finally catching on to what leading industry experts, like Michael Pollan, have been advocating for all along: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And it’s about time.