The trend for raw food as we know it started in Europe around 2010 but became established in the US and Australia in the 1990s. The rationale behind ‘raw foodism’ is based on a belief that eating foods raw better preserves their nutrients and enzymatic content – true for vitamin C in tomatoes and certain enzymes in broccoli, for example, although some foods, like carrots and tomatoes, provide more antioxidants when cooked.
“Customers are obviously raw foodists but it would be wrong to think this is the only consumer group. It’s actually quite a small one,” said Havrlandova, speaking at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam last week. “The biggest consumer group is vegans and vegetarians who are already looking for these foods. …However, the fastest growing group is health-oriented consumers who are looking for ‘clean foods’.”
Havrlandova says raw foodism is more of a philosophy than a set of rules; there are no laws governing use of the word ‘raw’.
In general, additives are not considered raw food, even if they are naturally sourced and processed at low temperatures, and anything heated to above 45°C would not qualify. Some also include raw animal products in their diets, although Havrlandova herself considers this too risky, and suggests that most raw foodists prefer a vegan approach. She says sustainability and organic production are usually taken into consideration – although with no regulation governing the category, this is not always a given.
However, it is hard to gauge the size of the market, considering there are no official definitions, and little market research into the sector.
She said the lack of regulation was often a challenge for raw products, but potentially this could be provided through some sort of certification body – in a similar way to Fairtrade – which would set specific rules for foods to be certified as truly ‘raw’.
For food manufacturers looking to tap into the sector, the fresh produce that makes up most of raw foodists’ diets does not provide a big marketing opportunity, but she claims other very minimally processed raw food products are on the rise across Europe, including breads, cookies, nuts, seeds, crackers, raw chocolate, bars, confectionery and creams.
Raw foods are often ‘free from’, usually lactose-free, gluten-free, animal product-free, sugar-free and additive-free, which could provide another potential revenue stream. That said, Havrlandova added that the opportunity presented by food intolerant consumers may be overestimated because “they tend to prefer cheap foods that don’t contain a particular allergen rather than necessarily high quality ingredients”.
In general, raw food products tend to be more expensive so the reasons for this must be communicated, such as the use of nuts, seeds and fruit instead of wheat flour, very long drying times to keep temperatures low, and their mainly handmade, artisanal nature.
“I expect we will see more industrial processing of so-called raw food products,” she said. “…I can see potential for short term gains, but in the long term I think it’s probably more for people who really have a personal interest in raw food because it is difficult to do the marketing and education.”