Changing Diets Drive Long-Term Food Marketing Trends


Americans are revolutionizing how they think about nutrition. Today, it’s about healthy eating and not just weight loss. It’s about designing your own nutrition plan, not sticking to a rigid, programmed diet. As Mintel describes it, “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.” The transformation is affecting food marketing across a range of categories and shaking up how brands and retailers think about consumers.

We’ve identified three food marketing trends that have long-term implications:

It’s about healthy eating and not just weight loss

Snacking for weight management

DIY Diets

It’s about healthy eating and not just weight loss

Consumers are rapidly shifting to healthier diets to maintain their weight, while moving away from weight loss. A recent Packaged Facts report noted that over the past five years, the number of consumers managing their diet to maintain weight grew 13%, or twice the growth of consumers trying to lose weight. The major driver of the shift is that more men are managing their diet and are more likely trying to maintain weight, rather than lose weight. “Consumers don’t want to feel they are on a diet, but instead want to be feel like they are eating healthier overall,” according to Erin Lash, packaged food analyst at Morningstar Inc.

Marketers are seeing sales declines for foods traditionally marketed for weight loss. Paul Norman, Chief Growth Officer for Kellogg Co. told the audience at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York: “We are on the journey from diet to wellness, from an absence of negatives, less calories, to more bang for the calories I consume.”

Norman said that Kellogg’s marketing would reflect the shift to healthier eating. “You think about Special K. Over the last 5 to 10 years, we have spent $7 out of $10 we spend on the brand selling diet plans, losing six pounds in two weeks, challenging you to lose weight…From now on those dollars, and $8 out of $10 of those dollars, will go against selling the food, selling the taste of our food, selling what is in our food and selling why our food is good. So a big focus back on investing in the food, selling the food.”

Nestlé is making its Lean Cuisine brand more relevant to consumers by offering gluten free, organic and more high protein products. Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle S.A. said on a recent conference call, “We’re seeing that whole lean market, not only in frozen, is challenged. People don’t want to go only for diet. They want to go for healthy lifestyles, and that’s where Lean Cuisine has to move.”

Snacking for weight management

Snacking has evolved to be a lot more than just satisfying hunger or fueling a quick energy boost. Today, it rivals the traditional meal as part of our diet and weight management strategies. Consider these recent findings:

More frequent and healthier snacking appears to be paying benefits. According to a study by NPD Group, consumers with the healthiest diets eat 36% more snacks than the average consumer.

The move to healthy snacking has General Mills adjusting its Yoplait Original advertising to position it as a family snack. David Clark, president of Yoplait’s U.S. operation said, “The snack business is a highlight in a food industry that’s otherwise been in a torpor. We have really changed our messaging. It’s a lot more about snacking.”

The move is producing positive results. Nielsen reports that for the year ending February 21, 2015, Yoplait Original sales were up 12.4% over the previous year, while Yoplait Light, with a low calorie message, saw a 12.1% drop.

Long-term food marketing trendsDIY Diets

Enabled by mobile apps (over 15,000 are available), consumers are designing and tracking personal weight management regimens and moving away from conventional diet plans and weight loss products.

The shift is most apparent in low or fat-free food categories. Millennials, in particular, are more likely to adopt a special diet such as gluten-free or vegan. According to Packaged Facts, among people trying to lose weight, 49% purchase low or fat-free foods, a drop from 58% in less than five years.

Weight management companies, like Weight Watchers, are feeling the effect. In 2014 alone, total subscribers to Weight Watchers dropped over 15%.

The new approach has lead to a significant increase in the percent of consumers saying they select foods based on the ingredients list (55%) and nutrition label (42%). This heightened reliance on labels can lead to confusion and uncertainty when brands use “halo terms” that can mean something much different from what the consumer understands. Registered Dietitian Cynthia Sass explains there is a significant difference between foods labeled “100% Organic”, “Organic”, and “Made with Organic Ingredients.” Despite consumer perceptions, Sass points out, organic does not always equal healthy. The result is that less than 38% of consumers trust what companies say on labels and 22% would like to see improved labeling.

This explosion and fragmentation of advice, often conflicting, poses a major dilemma for consumers: what should I believe?

A recent Adweek article asked, “Who will consumers trust—bloggers or brands?” It’s a false choice because, eventually, the answer will be neither. Inevitably, consumers will tune out the cacophony of conflicting claims. Instead, they will rely on a tight circle of trusted sources, such as friends, co-workers, or professionals with a personal knowledge and interest in the consumer. Rather than a blogger, consumers will take their primary nutrition cues from a spouse, a commuting partner, a Registered Dietitian or personal trainer.

Aha Marketing can help spread your healthy eating brand story to millions of consumers through thousands of influential health & wellness professionals. To learn more, contact us.

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