by Matt Weik
Consumer demand drives innovation – it’s as simple as that. And what it comes down to is who can be first to market with various new opportunities and capitalize? For the longest time consumers have been sick of the way whole foods have been trending. There were a bunch of gaps nutritionally that caused many to move towards supplements to achieve their daily requirements. But then came a lack of trust in dietary supplements. This has now caused the movement to shift back to a whole food health option movement and innovation. We have started calling this functional food and beverages.
Food First Mentality
There has always been a “food first” mentality where people should strive to take in everything they need, nutritionally, through whole food options and whatever they are deficient in, they could fill in through specific supplements. But let’s face it, people would much rather eat their nutrition than drink it via a shake or swallow it in the form of a pill or capsule (and definitely not in a chalky protein or nutrition bar).
With consumers now demanding more whole food options that provide more function, brands have gone back to the drawing board to create new innovation in the space. Granted, this is not to diminish the growth of the sports nutrition category. That category is estimated to continue to grow year-over-year for a very long time due to its convenience as well as its own innovation.
What Factors Come into Play When Purchasing Supplements?
What causes people to bite on the sports nutrition hook but then hop off before they can be reeled in? There are a few things, actually – ingredients, taste, texture, trust.
Ingredients: What ingredients are supplement companies using in today’s products? People don’t want added sugars, all the preservatives, or anything artificial. Also, if they can’t pronounce the ingredient, they don’t assume it’s good for them.
Taste: This is self-explanatory – if it tastes bad or doesn’t appeal to the consumer, they won’t buy it ever again (regardless of how good it is for them – look at all the greens powders out there). Taste means a lot these days as consumers EXPECT things to have a good flavor.
Texture: The mouth-feel has a lot to do with products these days. Protein shakes are too watery. Protein shakes are too thick. So on and so forth. It all comes down to personal preference at the end of the day and what one person likes another may not.
Trust: Consumers want to purchase from and support brands and companies they can trust. This comes down to their track record in the industry. Now, the supplement industry as a whole doesn’t have the most “trustworthy” brands, especially with all of the lawsuits floating around these days. So, brands need to focus on earning the business of consumers and building trust that can turn into brand loyalty in the long-term.
Look at all of the protein bars, RTD shakes, protein powders, greens powders, reds powders, etc. on the market today. It seems like every company has their own version. Some taste great – others taste terrible. The cream rises to the top while everything else sinks until the brand or product disappears.
The Cross-Over from Supplements to Whole Food Health Options
Brands are capitalizing on the whole food health movement. You have brands creating healthier pancakes, healthier pudding, healthier cakes, healthier cookies, healthier ice cream, healthier peanut butter, and many other healthier options. These items tend to be lower in calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar compared to their original versions while being higher in protein and fiber in most cases.
Some brands are even taking the next step in whole food health options by taking consumer favorites and finding ways to make them vegan-friendly, gluten-free, low-carb, low-fat, and low-calorie.
Consumer behaviors when it comes to various whole food health options is ever-changing and as something new is brought to market, consumers are already demanding something better (which is a good thing). They also want to see these new whole food health options to contain various functional and performance-based components to them. For instance, a normal cookie, while enticing, may excite a consumer and look good, but consumers now want to see a healthier cookie option that can also improve gut health, increase protein intake, reduce the spike in insulin, among other benefits. Bottom line, they want whole food options that go above and beyond the norm.
WHO Uses These Products Matters Just as Much as the Product Itself
In case you’ve been living under a rock these days, social media has exploded and influencers around the world are flocking to social media to showcase various new brands and products. Athletes and celebrities are endorsing healthy food options and it’s catering to the everyday household. Individuals who had no interest in changing their eating behaviors now see their idols using certain products and foods which then creates trial.
You see more and more athletes getting behind food brands these days versus supplement companies. Why? Well, not only because they have deeper pockets to pay these influencers, but they are also whole food options which are where things are trending.
You have brands like Clif Bar ($750M company) who dabbled in the sports nutrition space now going back into the mainstream market and catering to those consumers looking for everyday health and nutrition benefits.
Will Whole Food Health Options Be Here to Stay?
I personally think so. At least, I don’t think it will ever completely disappear. There’s too much of a need and demand for it. You will always have people on both sides of the debate saying go the whole food route and others saying to go the route of filling nutritional gaps with easy and convenient to use supplements. Neither one is incorrect so long as they don’t shift into having a negative relationship with food.
The goal isn’t to eliminate any one thing with this new innovation of introducing functional foods and beverages. You need to identify your wants and needs from functional whole food options and/or supplements. Brands need to find ways to make things easier and more convenient. Ingredient profiles and flavoring need to be improved. And the overall functional aspect of a food or product needs to be explained well enough that all consumers can understand and appreciate the benefits.
Whole food health options are here to stay, in my opinion. It’s time for brands to step up and deliver or be left behind.