Menus in 2017, Part 2 | Death of the diet

The first entry in this blog series on Nancy Kruse’s 2017 menu predictions covered the growing focus on “clean” ingredients and a shift toward simplicity in branding. For this blog, we delve into Nancy’s second prediction: dieting, or rather the lack thereof.

What it is

“This is a very bad time to be in the diet foods business,” Kruse said during her presentation at VantagePoint’s Insight2Impact Foodservice Marketing Summit.

Her statement is borne out by reports from NPR and Business Insider that look at the diminishing sales of traditional “diet” foods and the concomitant growth in health-centric labeling and messaging.

Why it’s coming

Research reveals that dieting isn’t as appealing as it once was.

Seventy-seven percent of consumers now say they’re trying to eat healthfully; only 19 percent say they’re on a diet, according to a Fortune magazine poll referenced by Kruse. Mintel, a market research firm, produced even starker results with 94 percent of its survey respondents no longer identifying themselves as dieters, according to NPR’s report.

To many consumers, a diet is about deprivation, but eating healthfully is about providing the fuel and nutrients that the body needs in ways that increase health and wellness.

Industry data shows that while diet foods are on a revenue tumble, more holistic or medically driven weight-loss programs, like health clubs and bariatric surgery, have seen incomes rise.

Where it’s showing up

In response to the shift, many food companies are developing products and messages that focus on healthful eating rather than dieting.

In 2016, this trend led to an increase in plant-based foods replacing animal protein, particularly beef, and even some carbohydrates in meals. Think mushroom-based burgers and spiralized zucchini in lieu of pasta.

Taco Bell even became the first quick service chain to offer American Vegetarian Association certified menu items.

What’s next

As the trend progresses, many diners are turning a skeptical eye to sugar. Refined white sugar is the “dietary demon” of the moment, Kruse said.

“The battle for better sugar is on,” she said.

A January 2016 Reuters/Ipsos poll showed 58 percent of respondents were trying to limit their sugar intake. But research shows when you have an “other” sugar – pure cane, organic, certified fair trade – it registers as a health food with the customer, Kruse said.

To that end, PepsiCo released its 1893 soda line, made with “real sugar.” And Coca-Cola introduced Coca-Cola Life, made with cane sugar and stevia extract.

The primary challenge associated with this trend, Kruse said, is to ensure consumers feel a sense of satisfaction, not deprivation, when it comes to healthful eating.

“No matter what you do, it has to be a tremendously attractive dish,” she said.

What changes have you seen that reflect the move away from dieting and toward healthful eating? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to the blog to receive the rest of the series on 2017 dining trends.

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