To find out, FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Dr Liz Sloan (LS) and Dr Catherine Adams Hutt (CAH) at food & beverage trendwatching consultancy Sloan Trends.
When it comes to healthy eating, Hartman Group says 'progressive' consumers are thinking less about ‘condition management’ (cholesterol reduction), or ‘dieting’ (low fat, low carb), and are instead more focused on real, quality food, fresh, less processed foods (tea, hummus), and pleasure (not self-denial). Do you agree?
CAH: Yes, I would agree with that, and the number of people looking for, say, low fat, is definitely down, and people are thinking more about minimally processed, real foods rather than thinking, 'What’s good for my heart? What’s good for my liver?
But 50% of people still say they are avoiding sugar, and 63% of the growth in sales of weight loss products is from young men under the age of 35.
LS: You could argue that performance foods such as energy products, sports drinks and relaxation products are 'condition-specific', and they are doing really well. But I think that when it comes to healthy eating, there are still certain fundamentals that we still need to get across.
What do you make of the recent surge of clean label pledges from food manufacturers?
LS: I think in some cases, the industry has gone too far. You see companies making breakfast bars even cutting out the nutrients [eg. previously they were fortifying their wares with vitamins] as well as the artificial colors, flavors and so on in order to clean up labels and shorten ingredients lists, and they are losing sales. The focus on removing preservatives could also lead to food safety issues, especially where people are also trying to reduce sodium.
Do Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers think differently about healthy eating?
CAH: I think Millennials and Gen Xers are more adventurous and they like to experiment with foods and alternative diets and embrace the discovery aspects of foods more than older people. What we are seeing is that there are all of these touchpoints – gluten-free, vegan, paleo and so on - that all appeal to different groups, and we’re seeing food companies rushing after many of these touchpoints individually.
LS: Boomers are actually more concerned than younger people about ‘artificial’ ingredients, and they are also embracing things like energy drinks and protein.
Do you think some companies are using ‘non-GMO’ as a proxy for ‘healthy’ even though the two are arguably unrelated?
LS: I think there is no doubt that many companies are using non-GMO and organic to confer a health halo, and we’re also seeing more companies that are using one organic ingredient – for example canned soup with organic beans – and trying to use that to their advantage to create a healthier ‘aura’.
CAH: However, I don’t think that organic or non-GMO are the primary sales drivers for any brand. The problem is that products have so many claims on them now that it’s really hard to determine which of them might be driving sales.
Do you think that smaller, more ‘on-trend’ brands that market premium, artisanal, non-GMO, or organic products benefit from a ‘health halo’ that they don’t always deserve?
LS: Yes, absolutely. Especially at the gourmet and natural products shows.
What do you make of the high protein craze… is it running out of steam?
CAH: No I don’t think so, although I think it could be refocused, as to really have an impact you need to have more meaningful amounts of protein and think about the timing of consumption as well.
What do you make of the ‘plant-based’ trend?
LS: I think it will grow and you also see this talked about in the dietary guidelines. But if you are looking at the growth of particular categories such as plant-based beverages [eg. almondmilk, coconut milk], what’s driving growth there is more taste and the desire for variety than healthfulness or perceived healthfulness. When you ask consumers why they drink things like almondmilk, health is something like #3 on the list.
Is the Grain Brain/Wheat Belly/bread avoidance movement still going strong?
CAH: Low-carb is down, even though people are saying it is up, I see no evidence of that. I think that it’s going down as a trend. Also, I'd say it's not so much grains that people say they are avoiding but white bread and pasta. People see sprouted grains, ancient grains and wholegrains – things which intersect with culinary trends – in a different light.
Does the Paleo trend have staying power?
LS: I think that it’s actually very small as a trend, and it’s on its way down…