Monitor: Consumers falling away from niche diets

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Sept.1, 2022
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If Americans have a love/hate relationship with diets, that balance leans overwhelmingly towards “hate.” We love the promise of lower weight and better health, but even when weight loss is not the goal, the enthusiasm for a diet or even a slightly restrictive eating plan dies in the details.

All of that seems clear in new consumer research for Nutrition Business Journal’s recently released Ways of Eating: Special Report. Asked what diet or approach to eating they followed, the biggest share, 43%, said they were not following any specific diet or regimen. After that, the biggest shares of respondents expressed interest in only the broadest nutritional concerns: low/reduced sugar, low salt, low fat and reduced calories. It’s a steep drop off to the more specific diets. Only 8% said they were practicing intermittent fasting, making it the most popular weight-loss-oriented “diet” in the survey, but keto was embraced by just 5%, though “keto-lite” came in higher, at 7%. The Mediterranean diet, widely haled as the healthiest of regimens, garnered just 5%.

To be clear, even 5% of consumers is no small market—the USDA says Americans spent $955 billion on groceries last year—but the data in the report suggests that leading with a diet claim might not be the wisest strategy. The comparably higher survey scores for product features like low/reduced sugar tell us that consumers might be looking closer at the nutrition than the niche. This is where a love/hate relationship tilted so heavily towards “hate” comes into play. If 5% of consumers are claiming to follow keto, that leaves 95% who might cringe at the word. The 8% who say they are following an intermittent fasting plan might not even be looking for those words on the package and some share of the other 92% could scoff at the idea of eating something designed for people who supposedly aren’t eating most hours of the day.

In short, consumers’ “ways of eating” are so fragmented that appealing to one subset risks turning off the overwhelming majority. Shoppers in that majority may be looking at the nutrition facts panel, but only the broadest definitions deserve front-of-package space. Low/reduced sugar might be worth a callout and features like gluten-free and nut-free are of vital concern to some consumers, but to lead with weight-loss diets or anything restrictive could turn off consumers.

Again, it’s more about the nutrition than the niche.

For more information, check out NBJ’s Ways of Eating: Special Report.

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