SHIFT20: ‘Keto really did just explode last year…’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Some keto brands on display at the Winter Fancy Food Show in January (pictures: Elaine Watson)
Some keto brands on display at the Winter Fancy Food Show in January (pictures: Elaine Watson)

Related tags keto SHIFT20 IFT show

Maintaining a metabolic state of ketosis requires a level of discipline that’s pretty hard to sustain; however, the high fat, moderate protein and ultra-low carb keto diet is nevertheless exerting a growing influence on new product development across a wide range of food and beverages, according to new data from Innova Market Insights.

Speaking during an education session at SHIFT20​, the virtual IFT show, Innova director of innovation Lu Ann Williams said, “Keto really did just explode last year​,” albeit off a small base, with a 230% increase in global new product launches making keto claims in 2019 vs 2018 from 1,400 to 4,620 products.

Activity varies by category, but 24% of all the new sports nutrition product launches tracked by Innova globally in 2019 had a keto claim, noted Williams, while Innova is also tracking a sharp uptick in keto products in the cereal aisle (typically via grain-free options), snacks, and beverages, many of which feature almonds, coconut, cocoa butter, or MCTs.

And while many US keto launches are from emerging brands such as Kettle & Fire​,​ Foodstirs​, and Catalina Crunch​ (keto was a top trend​ at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show); more established brands from Halo Top​ and Bolthouse Farms​ to Greek Gods​ have recently tapped into the trend via new product launches, or flagged up the keto credentials of existing products.


What is the keto diet?

There are different versions of the keto diet, but typically it involves sourcing 70-90% of calories from fat, 6-20% of calories from protein, and 5-10% from carbs (just 25-50g carbs per day).

Non-starchy vegetables are OK (no potatoes or corn), but most fruits and fruit juices are off limits (a medium banana contains around 27g carbohydrate), along with oatmeal, bread, cereal, and crackers. And if you want to stick to a strict keto diet, booze is largely off the menu. 

The goal is to reach a state of ketosis, a metabolic state in which fat (rather than glucose) provides most of the fuel for the body.   

‘It’s a diet where you’re either on it or you’re off it, you can’t kind of half way do it’

As with most diet-related searches, google trends data shows that there was a peak in searches for ‘keto’ at the beginning of the year, a drop-off in interest in the spring as COVID-19 kicked in, followed by a steady uptick as consumers renewed focus on their health, said Williams.

While consumers attempting to follow the diet frequently complain about a lack of variety/options, this presents a clear opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers to step in with convenient products formulated with keto-compliant macronutrient profiles, she said.

“It’s a diet [where] you’re either on it or you’re off it, you can’t kind of half way do it.”

‘It can take up to a week to enter ketosis once you start following the diet’

keto crunch

As for the merits of the keto diet - which has been criticized by some nutrition experts because it severely restricts foods we know to be healthy, from fruits, beans and legumes to whole grains – there isn’t a ton of research about its long-term effects, said Kristen N. Smith, PhD, RDN, K & T Consulting Services.

The quality of the keto diet also depends on the approach followers take - are you surviving on keto cookies, bacon, and frozen desserts or feasting on fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil? – said Smith,  who said emerging areas of research for keto diets included assessing its impact on physical and cognitive performance.

Several short-term studies suggest keto diets can be effective for weight loss, although some high profile studies such as Gardner at al’s 2018 study​ of 609 overweight adults showed no meaningful differences in weight loss results between a healthy low carb vs healthy low-fat diet, she said.

As for compliance, some people really struggle with the lack of variety, she acknowledged. However, having a limited toolbox of permitted foods makes it easier for others to follow, she claimed, noting that some followers report reduced appetite and cravings and improved energy and mental clarity, that’s if they can get through the initial fog of ‘keto flu’ as they transition to a state of ketosis.

halo top keto

It can take up to a week to enter ketosis once you start following the diet​,” said Smith, who said dieters can check ketone levels via blood, breath or urine tests to ensure they stay between 0.5 and 3mg/dL.

Ingredion: Formulating keto-friendly products ‘can be quite challenging’

As for formulating keto products, “It can be quite challenging, there’s no doubt about it​,” said Marshall G. Weston, III, senior food scientist at Ingredion, who said product developers reducing or completely eliminating sugar typically needed to work with a combination of high-potency sweeteners (such as stevia, monk fruit, sucralose, or Ace K) and bulking ingredients (allulose, starches, polyols such as erythritol, hydrocolloids such as guar gum, or traditional syrups such as maltodextrin).

Ingredion is seeing interest from customers looking to develop keto-friendly products across a range of applications from frozen desserts, creamers, beverages and sauces to cookies, said Weston.

  • Watch the full education session (Going Keto: Discovering the What, the Who, and the How of the Keto Friendly Diet​) on demand HERE​.

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