“Once upon a time, [diet] was synonymous with weight loss. It was a means to an end or on to-do lists for swimsuit season. But that is really not the case anymore,” said Arthi Padmanabhan, market research manager, custom research for New Hope Network’s NEXT Data & Insights.
Echoing comments from Dr Shelley Balanko at Hartman Group, Padmanabhan explained at virtual Expo West this week that “optimized diet is about diet as a tool for well-being and to help achieve broader goals of feeling healthy and high-functioning, and its’ based on internal barometer of how do I feel? There’s a large emphasis on intuition rather than things like digits on a scale. It’s eating certain things at certain points in a daily routine to achieve specific effects – like alertness for work, strength or endurance, or to optimize rest and recovery.”
With this mindset, consumers are focused on incorporating food and ingredients that support their goals, and removing or minimizing ingredients that they feel are “counterproductive to achieving those items,” she added.
In response to this shift, brands are innovating and renovating products to include more desirable ingredients and exclude less desirable ones.
For example, as consumers become more open-minded about alternative sweeteners, brands are able to include less refined sugar or select sweeteners perceived to have added nutritional benefits such as maple syrup with trace minerals or date sugar that has some potassium in it, Padmanadhan said.
“Using fruit to sweeten products is another approach that offers the potential for hitting a no added sugar claim under certain formulation conditions,” she added.
In addition, Padmanadhan noted some brands are using non-nutritive sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit or formulating with low- or no-sugar and leaning on savory and sour flavors or unique textures to create a unique eating experience that doesn’t make consumers feel like they are missing out.
The success of sugar reduction is prominently seen in shelf-stable candy reformulations, where products sweetened with stevia saw sales increase 31% in the past year, according to SPINS data. A 29% increase in fruit roll snacks also illustrates the potential of using fruits as sweeteners, said Scott Dicker, a marketing data analyst with SPINS.
Allergen-free claims appeal to lifestyle dieters
Beyond sugar, brands are meeting the dietary lifestyle trend by creating more products that are allergen-free, Padmanabhan said.
She explained this approach is on the opposite end of the spectrum – instead of adding desirable ingredients, it focuses on “negative reinforcement” or limiting and replacing ingredients believed to cause negative impacts.
This trend goes beyond just the major allergens to include ingredients like sulfites and MSG, which Padmanabhan said are often cited as ingredients of concern. Similarly, brands are removing ingredients that consumers perceive as triggering immune issues, causing brain fuzziness or triggering inflammation and ailments.
‘There are cleaner options than ever before’
As more consumers adopt lifestyle diets they collectively are raising the quality bar by gravitating towards options that not only meet their specific nutritional requirements, but do so without sacrificing other health goals.
Looking across new product launches in recent years, Adrienne Smith, a senior food business reporter with the New Hope Network, noted that not only can consumers now find sweet and savory snacks for every diet tribe, “but there are cleaner options than ever before.”
For example, she pointed to the recently launched Sahale Snacks Creole Bean + Nut Mix, which his gluten-free and high-protein as well as Non-GMO Project Verified and “quite yummy.” She also called out Go Wild’s Deconstructed Desserts Nut Mix, which uses dark chocolate protein puffs and gluten-free pretzels along with fruits and nuts. Finally, she noted Healthy Crunch White Chocolate Coconut chips will appeal to keto, paleo, vegan and gluten-free snackers with its “super simple ingredients,” and selection of maple syrup as a sweetener.
Recognizing that not all lifestyle diets fit neatly into diet tribes, Smith also noted that snack manufacturers are meeting consumers’ evolving diet demands by adding functional ingredients that boost immunity, brain or gut health and more. Recently launched examples include VK B12 Energy Bar in Meyer Pistachio flavor, HerbaLand Snack Health Packs with apple cider vinegar, Made in Nature Organic Fruit Bark superberry flavor with dried fruit and D’Vash Date Energy Bars.