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FMCG trends: Where next for healthy eating?

What does “healthy eating” actually mean? Ten years ago, “organic” was the buzzword. Today, the focus is very much on “clean” ways of masticating.

Now, though, there’s a whole host of healthy food trends making waves – and a generation of savvy, educated consumers who have the ability to make or break these new developments. How consumers respond to these new innovations – and how brands position them  – can have a huge impact on whether they pass as mere fads or linger for longer.

With that in mind, we investigate five of the current developments in the world of food and drink, to understand what’s next for healthy eating.

1. Protein

For the last few years, increased protein consumption has been all the rage throughout Western Europe. Previously, protein-enhanced foods and drinks were targeted at amateur athletes and gym buffs, designed to help recovery after exercise and build muscle. And the packaging was designed to match. On the shelves, you’d find huge tubs of powder to mix into shakes: tubs with labels showing men and women with idealised rippling muscles.

Now, protein has gone mainstream. Claims that it can increase muscle mass – as well as help you feel fuller for longer – have led to sales of all manner of protein products increasing. Euromonitor research shows that, between 2010 and 2015, it wasn’t just sales of sports protein bars, powders and ready-to-drink beverages that increased, but also natural sources of protein, such as eggs, nuts, pulses and poultry.

It’s a food trend that shows no sign of slowing, with heritage brands such as Weetabix, Mars and Snickers launching protein-rich varieties of existing products, targeted at mainstream customers with branding that builds on their existing popularity, rather than competing with the hardcore gym-goer ranges that were the category’s previous key players.

These protein products sit side by side on supermarket shelves with regular products in the same category – but with their high protein claims, they promise something extra. The packaging forhigh protein drink Wing-Co was designed to disrupt, while whey drink Upbeat is marketed as a snack or breakfast replacement that offers both high protein and high energy, without the sugars of its competitors.

It’s not all good news for protein, though: a high level of protein doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy snack. The 96g USN Protein Delite bars, for example, weigh in at 415 calories each, including 11g of sugar, while a 45g Peanut Protein Blast Bounce Energy Ball is almost ⅓ sugar.  

In response, manufacturers in other categories are highlighting their commitment to high protein, low fat and low sugar products. Arla, for example, promote their Arla Protein yoghurts and the Icelandic-style yoghurt Skyr with protein levels that are high enough to appeal to the protein hunters while distinguishing themselves thanks to their other health benefits. It’s a brand that appears to be winning in the backlash against sugar: and with products such as high protein udon soups and chia and honey protein bedtime drinks also making their way onto shelves, it’s a trend that seems set to continue.

2. Biodynamic food

Is biodynamic the new organic? Biodynamic farming is gaining traction today despite being around since the 1920s. The principle, half farming and half ethos, views a farm as an organism which must thrive without any external support. It works to its own calendar, based on the positioning of the moon and the stars, and the whole practice combines agriculture with astrology, homeopathy and more.  

Some principles match those of organic farming – growing without pesticides, fertilisers and other unnatural additions, for example – and a focus on creating the best possible soil quality promises top notch crops. The problem is, consumers don’t yet recognise the biodynamic labelling on products, and Millennials in particular are after instant gratification.

However, says Errol Schweizer, former Whole Foods lead merchandiser, “Customers want it, even if they don’t recognize the biodynamic certification on a box. What they want is food that tastes good and is grown ethically.” The challenge for manufacturers, retailers and merchandisers is to make consumers understand what they’re looking at, and why they should be buying it.

3. Probiotics and algae

Probiotics – “good bacteria” strains – are nothing new. For years, drinks like Yakult have been sold as a means of promoting good gut health, but now probiotics are being touted as a means of keeping the brain young too.

Algae is becoming more popular, especially as a means of increasing intake of Omega-3 without the need for fish consumption: particularly amongst those who are worried about overfishing and the increasing numbers following a vegan diet.

Reports show that the two can work together, with certain probiotics now proven to make some vegetable proteins easier to digest.

And probiotics are no longer just the domain of yoghurts. Previously the domain of Oriental and Polish supermarkets, products such as kimchi and sauerkraut are becoming more and more widely available. Jumping on the probiotics bandwagon, Sunbiotics have created a probiotic chocolate bar, while Enjoy Life Foods clearly advertise the inclusion of probiotics on their pre-packaged brownie mix. There’s now even a gut-friendly probiotic beer.

For all the weird and wonderful ways to imbibe bacteria, research shows that dairy products could be a profitable vehicle for probiotic strains. Existing products such as the aforementioned Yakult show an affinity between dairy and probiotics, while the healthy properties of milk-based products could be seen as a better pairing than the less healthy brownie mixes, chocolate bars and beer.

4. Food for wellness

In countries across the globe, certain ingredients have long links with health and wellness – and some of these ingredients have now made their way over to our shores. Two key examples are matcha and turmeric: the former renowned in Japan for its antioxidants, metabolism-boosting properties, detoxification qualities and more; the latter having a long history in Ayurveda for boosting the immune and circulatory systems, promoting digestion and other health-giving properties.

Matcha lattes, turmeric lattes, matcha cakes, turmeric tea; the two ingredients have plenty of traction here in the UK. The Turmeric Zinger Juice from James White Drinks, launched in mid-2016, is a caffeine-free, low sugar alternative to energy drinks: the brand is known for its organic, health-giving beverages, making the turmeric drink a logical next step.

Waitrose are known for supporting current food trends, and as well as offering matcha shots (small drinks blended with orange juice), their matcha offering includes a kiwi, avocado and matcha tea yoghurt. While it embraces another big food trend (avocado), will this invention be seen as too much of a gimmick?

Not such a gimmick is Japan’s matcha Kit Kat, which has been around for a while – an existing blend of chocolate and matcha that paves the way for brand such as Artisan du Chocolat to do well with their own similar combinations.

6. Drinking vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (complete with the sediment known as the “mother”) has long been touted as an ingredient that can treat sore throats, reflux, skin problems and more – now even Liam Gallagher has got on the bandwagon, swearing by vinegar as a cure for a hoarse voice. But now companies are taking it one step further, creating bottled drinks with organic, unfiltered cider vinegar as one of the key ingredients.

BluePrint now offer a Turmeric Tonic and a Ginger Maple Tonic, promising “low calorie refreshment” as well as digestive benefits. Their positioning as tonics, as well as their packaging – which resembles many other “health drinks” on the market – may aid their success, and with fermented drinks such as kombucha currently so popular, the promise of an acidic tang may not turn consumers off.

Vinegar may also see longer term success thanks to the craft cocktail movement, where “shrubs” – cocktail syrups based on an old method of preserving fruit juice – use apple cider vinegar as a core component.

According to Technavio, the apple cider vinegar market is set to show a compound annual growth rate of 10.24% between 2016 and 2020 – suggesting that this could be a health food trend that is here to stay.

“Healthy eating” is more complicated than “choosing organic” or “clean eating” ever was. But whether products inspired by sport and fitness or international cultures survive for the long-term remains to be seen. Their success will be down to consumer understanding, genuine health benefits, and the ability of manufacturers to innovate intelligently.

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