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2019 Key Health and Nutrition Trends
By Sharon Natoli
Consumer interest in health as a driver of food purchasing decisions has never been higher. Research shows a majority of consumers consider diet and nutrition important to their wellbeing meaning food products that offer a health and wellness benefit continue to capture an increasingly greater share of the global food market. Of particular interest is that half of consumers say they are willing to pay more for healthier foods (1).
Category trends also show that health is no longer just the domain of breakfast cereals and snacks, but has an influence on purchasing decisions across all categories, including beverages, desserts and confectionary.
This means that for any business involved in producing and marketing food, ‘health’ is likely on the agenda in some way, whether this be in new product development and reformulation, or in communications and marketing. In order to resonate with consumers, maintaining awareness of key health and nutrition trends is therefore critical for business success. To assist with planning ahead, below is a starting list of five key trends for 2019.
Sugar – Not So Sweet
Sugar will continue to be ‘not so sweet’ in 2019. The desire to avoid added sugar remains strong with the International Food Information Council’s 2018 (2) research showing a continued increase in the number of people who believe carbohydrate causes weight gain with sugar being the most likely culprit. When asked, 77% of people say they are trying to limit or avoid sugar.
Categories most affected are drinks, confectionary, cakes, biscuits, pastries, frozen desserts like ice-cream, frozen yoghurt, and sweet snacks.
When integrating a reduction in added sugar into your strategy consider the following:
Focus on added sugar, rather than total sugar. It’s useful to assist consumers to understand that natural sugars from milk and fruit are compatible with a healthy diet (the caveat here is if you are aiming to reformulate to change a products Health Star Rating (HSR). The HSR currently uses total sugar in the algorithm).
Give consideration to whether or not replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweeteners is the right strategy for your product. This modification may impact on your ability to achieve a cleaner label and around 40% of people view low or no calorie sweeteners negatively.
For baked or confectionary type products, consider reducing the portion size as an alternative to re-formulating.
Don’t automatically go for no added sugar – ‘lightly sweetened’ is a potentially good middle ground as it appeals to people’s desire to eat in a less militant and more balanced way.
Natural Nutrition – Differentiating the Source
Foods that make it easier for consumers to meet their daily requirements for key nutrients have long been in demand, however where those nutrients come from will make a difference in 2019.
Foods that can highlight their natural nutritional profile will have an edge over those with added nutrients. This is in line with consumer perceptions that whole and real food is ‘better for me’ than food that has been modified in some way. Look for ways to include more whole foods or ingredients derived from whole foods and natural sources into existing or new products.
Assess ways you can swap out nutrient poor ingredients for those that are naturally nutrient rich. Examples may include swapping refined starches for wholegrain cereals in products such as snack bars or biscuits, or bumping up the percentage of vegetables in a mixed product like soups or main meals.
Mind over Matter - Stress and Mental Health
One Victorian MP recently called for the introduction of a Minister for Loneliness as a means of addressing the growing problem of social isolation. While this may seem surprising, research shows the health impacts of chronic social isolation have the same implications for heart disease and stroke as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (3). It’s associated with increased mental health issues, diabetes and even an early death.
These are all reasons why social isolation was also found by Mintel to be one of the big 6 global consumer trends for 2019 (4). While food marketing and innovation is often focused on helping people reduce the risk of poor health by assisting to reduce blood cholesterol levels, or promoting digestive health, it is worthwhile expanding this to consider how food and eating can assist consumers improve their mental health.
Many of the pre-approved health claims outlined in Schedule 4 of the Food Standards Code allow food producers to link the presence of vitamins and minerals in a product to benefits associated with cognition and the maintenance of mind health. Some examples include iodine, iron, zinc and the B vitamin pantothenic acid. To access these claims, consider undertaking nutrient analysis by sending products for laboratory testing.
Meat-Free Mondays Stretch to Tuesday - Less meat more vegan
Being in alignment with the two mega-trends of environmental sustainability and eating to optimise personal health, vegan, vegetarian and plant-based foods are on the rise.
According to Euromonitor, Australia is the third fastest growth market for vegan products in the world, growing at almost 10% per year for the past 3 years. This growth is expected to continue through to 2020 and with Hungry Jack’s being one of the most recent QSR’s to introduce a vegan burger, it’s a sign the trend has well and truly hit the mainstream.
Plant based foods are not automatically ‘healthy’ and consideration needs to be given to the nature of the ingredients and the nutritional profile. According to Dr Dariush Mozzafarian, leading researcher from Tufts University who spoke recently at the International Forum on Food & Nutrition, much of what is wrong with the world’s diet comes from plants (too many refined starches and added sugars). So when developing and marketing plant based foods, ensure the foods are nutrient rich, and take care to ensure any health and nutritional benefits claimed are well substantiated.
Enhanced health benefits - Positively processed
One of Innova Market Insights top trends for 2018 was ‘positively processed’. This trend refers to the rise of traditional ways of processing that, rather than reduce nutritional value, serve to increase it. Examples include fermentation, as used in the production of kombucha and kefir, along with cold brewing, and sprouting, as used in breads and cereals. As consumers move toward a more holistic definition of what it means for a food to be ‘healthy’, the type and degree of processing will become increasingly important meaning this trend will continue in 2019.
‘Positively processed’ foods and drinks may increase the opportunity to make health or nutrient related claims on products. For example, sprouting has been shown in research to increase the amount of certain nutrients that are present. To confirm this, invest in nutrient testing and consider also testing a reference food to determine whether comparative claims may be worthwhile.
Overall, monitoring health and nutrition related trends provides an important input for innovation and marketing teams. Prioritising trends and aligning products with those that offer the greatest impact can provide a significant competitive advantage for those prepared to invest and act.
Sharon Natoli is a speaker, author and advisor helping food businesses prepare for the future by taking action today. She provides understanding and awareness of food trends and health and nutrition insights influencing the future consumer; and her book, Food for a Better Future outlines the three essential ingredients food businesses need to be future ready.