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The Shifting Definition of Dieting

BY: Kelly Hensel
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In one of six main stage presentations put on in its booth (#5250), Mintel’s directors of innovation and insights Lynn Dornblaser and David Jago shared with attendees data on how consumers view dieting. As Dornblaser explained, “consumers want a more natural diet today—one that is easier to adopt.” This definition of dieting goes beyond eliminating the bad to focusing on the good as well. Dieting has become much more about adopting a healthier lifestyle. In fact, 72% of U.S. adults say they diet to maintain their overall health, not just to lose weight.

A big driver behind this shift in dieting is consumers’ anxiety about the food they eat. More than half (53%) of U.S. consumers worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they consume. This “factory fear,” as Dornblaser calls it, has led to 59% of consumers equating fewer ingredients with a healthier product. Consumers are seeking foods that are “free from” certain ingredients they believe are unhealthy. Topping the list in the free-from claims on food and beverage products is preservative free, followed by GMO free, and lactose free.

Gluten free is another diet trend that has become increasingly popular, especially with U.S. consumers; 20% report following a gluten-free diet. Given that only around 3 million people have celiac disease, it is obvious that “celiac is not the driver of this trend,” said Jago. “The driver is the ‘lifestylers’”—the people that are cutting out gluten because they think it is better for their overall health. Dornblaser pointed out that a key success driver to the gluten-free trend is that product development has vastly improved, making the taste of gluten-free products acceptable to consumers. In fact, 86% of U.S. gluten-free eaters are satisfied with the taste of the products. “Had you asked that same group of consumers five years ago, the number wouldn’t have been nearly as high,” said Dornblaser. That’s how fast product development in the space has advanced.

Another area in which taste has improved in recent years is in vegan and meat-free categories. Jago explained that while vegetarian claims on food and beverage products are decreasing, vegan claims are on the rise. “There are more imaginative and sophisticated products on the market” for consumers who want to follow a vegan diet, explained Jago.

Overall, the new product launch data shows that free-from claims aren’t going away. While it is obvious that some diets are just fads, such as the low-carb craze that spiked in 2004 and then faded just has quickly, free from has experienced a steady rise over time that is just now flattening out. “There will be plenty of new fad diets,” explained Dornblaser. “But they are underpinned by powerful consumer trend towards wanting a more pure, healthier, more controlled—and happier—existence.”

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