Health savvy consumers shape the market

11 November 2017

With the rise of health-conscious trends – including clean eating and gluten-free diets – consumers are taking more control of their intake to prevent illness further down the line. GlobalData's research provides valuable insight into consumer attitudes and trends.

GlobalData’s research monitors the FMCG landscape, exploring all aspects of innovation, behaviour and the evolving habits of consumers, ingredients and flavour trends, among other factors. In recognition of this, their insight is underpinned by a proprietary-trend framework called TrendSights Analysis, which captures and maps consumer attitudes. Its coverage assesses data from the past, present and future to understand how the experience of today’s consumers shape tomorrow's opportunities for major or upcoming brands, which can access the service to gain substantial insights for growth.

‘TrendSights Analysis: Moderation & Avoidance’ is part of the TrendSights series of Consumer Insight studies. This analysis covers what the trend is, why it is important, who is most influenced by it, and how brands and manufacturers can capitalise. The research concludes by identifying where the trend is heading next and how long it will last.

Consumers exhibit or aim to show restraint as a means of supporting and improving their well-being. In doing so, they give up or exchange ‘villainous’ ingredients for healthier options that will benefit them more in the long run. Many consumers simply choose to moderate or avoid certain foods; however, some members of society are forced to make a change for cultural or religious reasons.

A DIY approach to health

Medical conditions, such as allergies and diabetes, also make people give up or exchange some foods, but for others, it is a lifestyle choice to cut out various ingredients, including gluten, sugar and diary. Press and social media coverage, and the development of new products, have empowered consumers by enabling them to start taking charge of their own health and well-being.

As a result, self-diagnosis and varying perceptions of what, and how much, is healthy has propelled a lifestyle shift towards moderation or the complete avoidance of products that are deemed to have a negative impact on one's health. This gives FMCG brands a significant opportunity to target health-conscious consumers with products that do not contain specific ingredients or act as healthy substitutes, for emample, quinoa.

The ingredients that consumers moderate or cut out can be divided into three categories: villains, vices and impurities. With TrendSights’ report, industry players can see that consumers try to cut out ‘villain’ ingredients, such as sugar, fat and meat, because of health and/or lifestyle reasons.

How can consumers ensure that they are avoiding certain things? Whether through choice of necessity, consumers now have more options available that make avoiding specific ingredients much easier, which range from free-from isles to reduced-salt products. Those who wish to improve their well-being can, for example, become vegan or reduce calorific intake as well. However, some changes are not long term and can include cutting down on alcohol to drive home safely.

The oldest food villains

Sugar and fat are the most vilified ingredients for consumers today. It is apparent that people are being more mindful about the specific ingredients and food groups they eat. Sugar and fat, in particular, have cemented their position as the ingredients that consumers are most likely to limit or avoid altogether.

In recent years, sugar has gradually surpassed fat as the top food villain. A study published in The BMJ revealed that Google searches for low fat have declined since 2004, while those for low sugar have grown, and were correctly predicted to take the lead by the end of 2016. With excessive sugar consumption being attributed to the global obesity epidemic, as well as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health conditions, it is no surprise that 43% of worldwide consumers claim to be reducing their sugar intake. This figure rises for those who express concern about sugar or obesity-related health issues. Older consumers are the most likely to choose products with low/no sugar, in order to combat medical conditions that have arisen following the excessive consumption of sugar from earlier in their lives. Manufacturers must continue to respond to their needs with low or no-sugar products, which are made using low-calorie sweeteners or unsweet flavour profiles.

Although consumer attention is shifting towards sugar, fat content still remains a concern for many. Around four out of ten consumers are actively trying to reduce their fat intake globally, and this figure increases for emerging markets. In Latin America, 53% of the population are trying to cut down on fat – a decision that has been fuelled by the high rate of obesity in the region. Products that fall under the low-fat banner will, therefore, continue to be particularly attractive to consumers in emerging markets.

The source of fat is also just as important to consumers; olive oil and coconut oil, for instance, are viewed as healthier options than saturated and animal fats, which have a poor reputation in the health industry. Manufacturers could promote formulations that are low in animal or saturated fats, rather than focusing on items that are low fat or fat-free. This option may appeal to consumers who are are limiting their intake of specific fats that they believe will have a negative impact on their body.

Moderating carbohydrates

A high proportion of the public are also cutting down on their consumption of carbohydrates, diary and other staple food groups, which are a key part of many diets. On top of responding to demands for products that are low in sugar, fat, salt and calories, food and drink manufacturers must also innovate to moderate the intake of newly vilified food groups. This has become apparent in the proliferation of plant-based products that target vegans and vegetarians, particularly the game-changing use of vegetables as carbohydrate replacements.

Globally, four out of ten consumers are trying to lose weight – and the majority moderate their food intake to do so. After exercise and healthy eating, having smaller portion sizes and snacking less are popular strategies for weight loss. Brands facilitate the needs of these particular consumers by selling pre-portioned servings, which make it eaiser to manage portion sizes for main meals and snacks.

There is a high chance that those who limit or avoid eating certain food groups are trying to lose weight. For example, more than half of the consumers who cut down on carbohydrates have weight loss in mind. A quarter of global consumers are reducing the carbohydrates they eat – especially women and the baby boomer generation. To facilitate this, consumers are using alternative ingredients to replace traditional starchy carbohydrates. Vegetables are the most popular substitute; food manufacturers have capitalised on this by producing new products, including pre-prepared meals with spiralised or riced vegetables, instead of pasta and rice. These food choices appeal to weight-conscious consumers or keen cooks who want to experiment.

A market of alternatives

The majority of consumers still eat meat, but figures are rising for people who remove animal products from their diets. Veganism has doubled globally since 2014, and this surge is even more marked in meat-loving nations, such as the US. Deciding to no longer eat meat or any animal product reflects the rising ethical and environmental values of consumers, and the acknowledgement of health concerns that are linked to excessively eating certain meats. People are more likely to moderate or avoid processed and red meats, which have been linked to various health issues, such as colorectal cancer.

Consumers are opting for diets that are rich in fish, white meat and plantbased sources, including pulses and beans. Brands could capitalise on this by introducing a wider variety of meat-free options that target vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and individuals who want to reduce their meat intake. New products, such as the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, mimic the smell, taste and texture of meat with natural ingredients, including wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and heme, which is an iron-containing compound.

In recent years, the offering for dairy alternatives has also expanded, moving away from largely soy-based products to items that are made from a range of other plant-based ingredients, including almond milk and coconut yogurt. Despite this broad range of foods, many people are still choosing to consume dairy in moderation rather than ditch it altogether. This suggests that consumers enjoy having more options, but do not rely on them solely.

Dairy brands could move away from dairy-free products and highlight the desire for moderation by developing items that combine dairy with plantbased alternatives. These products would promote dairy moderation without compromising on the sensory properties and natural health benefits of this food group, which is a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

Younger generations are more likely to purchase products that are gluten or lactose-free. The inclination to buy these foods is driven primarily by a perception that they are healthier, instead of having an intolerance or allergy. The fact that these products are deemed to be better is evidence of the vilification that gluten and dairy have experienced in recent years, which has been fuelled by the media and online health bloggers who advocate various free-from diets. Interestingly, more consumers claim to prefer the taste of these foods. This finding highlights the impressive progress free-from products have made, and that they are seen as credible rivals to the ‘real’ thing.


Consumers are making proactive health choices by preventing problems before they occur through dietary and other lifestyle changes.

Mainstream and social media platforms, such as Instagram, have been instrumental in driving free-from diets, which has seen the clean eating movement arguably gain the most traction.

Increased moderation and avoidance

Many individuals are forced to limit or cut out certain vices or ingredients because of reasons beyond their control, including medical diagnoses. On the other hand, some consumers have chosen to no longer eat specific foods in order to improve their lifestyle and overall health. Cutting out gluten to prevent bloating or beginning a sugar-free diet for weight loss are a few changes that people are making.

The implications of innovation

Rather than concentrating on what has been taken away from products, consumers and brands are choosing to promote the positive factors of health foods, such as their flavour and increased nutritional value.

The invention of pre-portioned packs and individual servings has also made it easier for consumers to moderate their intake of certain ingredients, while still enjoying their favourite treats.

Eating natural formulations is another way of limiting their exposure to impurities by using natural ingredients.

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