Sound Nutrition Science, or Hype
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
As nutrition communicators, retail dietitians can sometimes find it difficult to deliver sound nutrition advice amid a social media environment powered by click-bait. This situation can also be a struggle for large food companies who are trying to balance nutrition science with consumer trends. Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company, provides insights for how they navigate the complex task of combining shopper interest in trending media hype with sound nutrition science to create products that sell in your supermarkets.
- Start by understanding the social, economic and cultural shifts that shape how consumers are eating today. These include:
- Who we are – less households with kids; more single person households; decrease in middle class
- What we do – working more; eating alone more; more snacking
- How we shop – visit more grocery stores; making more food choices shortly before consumption; impact of technology
- What we value – health & wellness; fresh seen as quality; personalization and global flavors
- Consider how people think about modern health and its evolution.
- Specialty diet plans are currently popular (Keto, whole 30, Paleo) but personalization is seen as the next frontier. (DNA and metabolic analysis for example).
- Shoppers seek foods that offer a balance of flavor, nutrition and purity (minimally processed).
- Health benefits (cardio, weight management, energy, brain and digestive health) along with dietary lifestyles (plant-based, gluten-free, vegan) drive food choices.
Creating new food products requires that companies understand these consumer trends but they also need to look at nutrition truths related to science and regulations. These considerations can then be aligned with business realities. For Nestle that means promoting consumer health with nutritious, tasty products, while improving environmental impact.
Consider the development of new plant-based foods. The interest in this eating plan has been sparked by documentaries, celebrity endorsements, and animal welfare/environmental concerns, and according to IFIC’s 2018 Food & Health survey, 20% of consumers are trying to reduce meat consumption while 42% are actively seeking foods with plant-based claims. Regarding nutrition research, studies indicate that shifting to more plant foods can be beneficial to health. On the business side, the market for plant-based foods represent $3.1B with growth seen both in plant-based dairy and meats. To address this need and growth potential, companies may respond with a variety of plant-based extensions on key brands or acquire a smaller plant-based food company. Nestle’s plant-based solutions include: Non-dairy Haagen-Dazs, Lean Cuisine entrees, coconut milk coffee creamers, Sweet Earth pizzas and breakfast sandwiches and Carnation almond cooking milk. Product offerings they hope ensure meaningful market potential.