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2015 NBJ Special Diets Report

  • April 2015
  • -
  • Nutrition Business Journal
  • -
  • 145 pages

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We have become a nation of food tribes. A whopping 44 percent of adults now say food restrictions, food allergies, or avoidance of certain ingredients dictate what they eat, according to a 2014 Packaged Facts report. Of those, one in three is trying to get off sugar, one in four is on a “high protein” diet, and 6.5 percent are “lactose free.” Many are motivated not just by a wish to lose weight but, rather, a “new lifestyle” inextricably linked with their social circles and stances on environmental and animal welfare issues. Nearly 1 in 3 adults is trying to go gluten free; one in 10 millennials is vegetarian or vegan; and as many as 3 million people identify with the “ancestral health movement,” a.k.a. Paleo, recent surveys show.

Executive Summary
Simply rejecting the standard over-processed American diet in favor of fresh food and home cooking used to be victory enough. But the special-diet landscape has fractured into massive subsets shaped less by outsider status than by forces of scale, consumer trust, and consistency. The gluten-free tribe represents a roughly $22 billion market segment, paleo has ridden CrossFit into the mainstream, organic is now an expectation, and entire brands live and die by adherence to—or avoidance of—terms like “non-GMO,” “plant-based,” and “local.” Overall, NBJ estimates that the special-diets category will reach $144 billion by 2018, a scale that has massive ramifications from farm to shelf. Last year alone, sales reached $92 billion, nearly 50 percent more than the estimated $64 billion total spent on natural and organic products. It helps to think about the path we’re on—as individuals and as an industry—in terms of Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. Here we replace Maslow’s third and fourth levels—“love and belonging” and self-esteem,” respectively—with “health/body issues” and “food tribes.” For the purposes of this report, we’re focusing on that latter group, where food choices have moved beyond issues of hunger, availability, or even a vague desire to be “healthy,” to personal values and questions of actual identity. Diets in those the three levels get at how people eat. Those in the green section get at how people live and how they define themselves.

Unlike consumers—and this is important—brands that serve higher levels of the pyramid don’t have to cede the broad markets below them. Vegan products can be a gateway for consumers just waking up to ideas of healthy eating; free-from products can appeal to weight-loss dieters; and local beef works for anyone who wants a burger. It all depends on brand-level choices about positioning. Products and label claims that hit the intersection of the four remaining trends can be marketed to all or most consumers. (Think: organic, non-GMO.) Conversely, those that identify with specific trends trade potentially broad appeal for more dedicated consumers who are willing to pay a premium. (Think: sprouted grains, paleo, local.) There are certainly other consumer demands to consider. Sustainability and trust are two big ones. But those manifest in myriad
ways when it comes to food purchases. Some consumers might prefer almond milk due to concerns about sustainability in the dairy industry, while others who identify as sustainability-minded might shun almonds over concerns about California’s water crisis. Then there will be those carbon-footprint shoppers whose primary concern is that the almonds were grown within 100 miles of them.

This is all by way of saying that food tribe motivations range from health to emotions to ethics to personal identities. It’s a complex but fascinating landscape, and one rich with opportunities for brands who are clear about whom they are serving and why. This report hits at those questions with consumer surveys, interviews with industry executives and observers, and market data from NBJ and other sources—all compiled with the aim of quantifying important trends and identifying key opportunities for manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers.

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