The percentage of American adults on specific diets rose to 36% in the past year, according to the 13th annual Food & Health Survey just released by the International Food Information Council Foundation. As these consumers follow Whole30, paleo, gluten-free, ketogenic and other regimens, along with intermittent fasting, their diet habits could provide additional growth opportunities for food manufacturers.
The survey found the most common diet regime was occasional fasting (10%), followed by paleo (7%), low-carbohydrate (5%), Whole30 (5%), high-protein (4%) and ketogenic/high-fat (3%). The online survey of 1,009 American was conducted between March 12 and March 26 and involved consumers between the ages of 18 and 80.
Other key survey findings were that 80% of consumers are confused about conflicting food and nutrition information and 59% say it causes them to doubt their choices. Even if nutritional facts are identical, consumer purchasing decisions may be influenced by the presence of GMOs, a long list of ingredients, sustainable processes, freshness or sweeter taste.
Like other consumer trends, diets can quickly slip in and out of fashion, but that doesn't mean manufacturers should underestimate their potential to boost sales. These eating habits are especially popular among the coveted millennial demographic, and label claims that call out regimens like Whole30 and paleo could lure younger consumers to brands.
The survey found that 45% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 were much more likely to take up a certain diet when compared to all other ages (36%), while those aged 65 and older were less likely to do it (28%).
Some food brands have taken advantage of this interest by partnering with specific diets or exercise regimes. Strauss Foods recently teamed with CrossFit to sell grass-fed beef and free-range chicken through subscription boxes. It's too early to tell if this launch has been fruitful for both brands, but given the growing size and deep loyalty of the CrossFit community, it seems savvy for Strauss Foods to invest in a product that caters to this shopper base.
Earlier this year, Applegate natural and organic meat company partnered with Whole30. Seventeen of the company's products — such as no-sugar bacon, turkey hot dogs and grilled chicken breast strips — now sport a Whole30 seal of approval. This affiliation has already helped Applegate, which is owned by Hormel Foods, differentiate itself in the crowded meat case.
Nicole Glenn, vice president of marketing at Applegate, told Food Navigator that weekly sales of its hot dogs at Whole Foods hit one of their highest points ever right after the partnership was announced. Whether or not this Whole30 stamp will effectively cut through a sea of competing protein label claims — such as nitrate-free, grass-fed and antibiotic-free — remains to be seen.
If manufacturers don't want to go as far as partnering with a diet or fitness lifestyle brand, they could also cater to these communities by emphasizing the product attributes that are top of mind for them such as being low-sugar, low-carb or high in protein. Brands could also communicate how these formulas meet diet standards via social media and other marketing channels to make the connection clear. This could prove lucrative, as 7 in 10 consumers say they would forego a favorite food item and buy one without artificial ingredients and, of those, four in 10 would pay 50% more, while one in five would pay double.