At Natural Products Expo West, the sheer quantity and diversity of products making keto claims was “a real eye-opener,” Nicholas Fereday, executive director of Rabobank’s RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness and a consumer foods expert wrote in a recent report cheering the return of trade shows.
He noted that there was “so much keto” at the show, with brands showcasing keto snack bars, keto puddings, keto candy and keto bread, that he wondered if “maybe we are witnessing the second coming” of keto.
Indeed, a report from Grand View Research suggests consumer interest in the keto diet isn’t declining, but rather on the rise – driving up compound annual sales a projected 5.5% from $9.57b globally in 2019 through 2027. While supplements may account for the bulk of the sales (at 50%), sales of keto snacks is projected to outpace the overall category with a projected CAGR of 6.1%, according to the report.
'The younger generation eats with more purpose'
Among the companies drawn to the market potential and health promises of keto is JiMMYBAR!, which cut its teeth in the keto space in 2018 with launch of three popular snack bars formulated for the diet.
Encouraged by sales, consumer feedback, and personal success with the diet, the company is now expanding beyond the bar category into decadent dessert cups and, possibly soon, other categories that have traditionally been taboo for keto followers.
“The younger generation eats with more purpose than, say, I did when I was younger and would eat a Twinkie without thinking anything about it. But today, people want a benefit from what they eat or drink … and they understand that food is medicine,” Jim Simon, co-founder and CEO of JiMMYBAR! told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained this mentality is what prompted JiMMYBAR! in 2018 to reposition its decadent but better-for-you bite-size bars to focus on the functional benefits their key ingredients – be it a high dose of vitamin C for immunity boosting, caffeine for focus, turmeric for recovery or a combination of high-protein and low-carb to aid weight management by complying with keto guidelines.
Soluble corn fiber
As dedicated as many modern consumers are to following a healthier diet and leveraging functional ingredients, they are still susceptible to the same cravings for sweets and carbs as the generation before them.
With JiMMYBAR!’s new dessert cups, consumers don’t have to choose between healthy benefits and a sweet treat, Simon said.
“Our desert cups are sort of like a really thick chocolate ganache or a pudding that you can eat right out of the cup or use as a spread or even as a base for a smoothie that is yummy but still supports weight loss or weight management because it has zero added sugar and just a couple hundred calories per cup. So, it really solves that sweet craving when you really want to eat a big bucket of ice cream,” he explained.
The cups keep net carbs in check at 5 grams per serving by blending soluble corn fiber with peanut butter, coconut oil and ghee and leaning on allulose, erythritol and stevia for sweetness. To recreate the creamy mouthfeel and texture associated with pudding, the cups use organic guar gum, organic gum acacia and xanthan gum.
Each cup also has 19 grams of fat, including 13 grams of saturated fat, 19 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of protein.
While some dietitians may question the health impact of the cup’s 13 grams of saturated fat and 19 grams of total fat, they likely would find less fault in the dessert’s 5 grams of sugar, none of which is added sugar.
“More and more people are wise to sugar. Sugar is the enemy … and it’s one of the leading causes of obesity, which is you know the leading cause of death in America,” Simon said.
Unfortunately, he acknowledged, sugar also tastes good. But he added sweeteners, including allulose, have a come a long way in replicating what people like about sugar and cutting out what they don’t without any other tradeoffs, like off-notes or performance issues.
Up next: Pizza?
Encouraged by the initial success of the dessert cups and JiMMYBAR!’s first foray outside of the bar category into which it first launched, Simon said he sees significant potential for the company to address other common pain points for keto-followers.
“The three things you miss when you’re on the keto diet are sweets, pizza and booze,” Simon said, noting the company is already tackling the first with its dessert cups and now has its eye on the second.
“We are flirting with a keto pizza, and some other categories that I can’t mention yet, but which we like to eat out” or on cheat day, Simon said.
All in on keto
While some people, including one of JiMMYBAR!’s investors, might worry that keto is a fad diet and that the decline in Internet searches for the term portends a declining consumer interest, Simon is confident that keto – or some close version of it – is here to stay.
“One of my investors and I used to go back and forth, back and forth, almost to the point of arguing. He said [keto] is a fad and not effective, and I said, ‘Yes, it’s a 100 year old fad.’ I said, ‘It’s just low-sugar. It’s just a fancy name for low sugar’” and low-carb, which take on different names every few years, but they remain top diet goals, Simon said.
“Keto is no different than [the high protein, low carb diet] Atkins was 50 years ago, except you’re not eating a vat of bacon, and it’s a little more sensible, but Atkins is now a multi-billion dollar company. So, clearly it’s working for them,” he added.
That said, he acknowledged that most Americans who claim to follow the diet are “keto-ish” – cutting out carbs and sugar where they can, but not religiously factoring the ratio of carbs-fat-protein they consume a day.
He added that as more ‘keto-friendly’ products launch, following the diet will become even easier and attract even more adherents – creating a virtuous circle to help grow the industry.