Webinar Shows ‘Healthy’ Top of Mind for Consumers

poached egg with vegetables and tomatoes on blue plate, healthy

The Food Institute was recently joined by two registered dieticians to discuss the state of wellness for the Food Industry. Marie Molde (MBA, RD) from Datassential and Barbara Ruhs (MS, RDN, RD) from Avocados from Mexico discussed self-reported health issues while dispelling some myths around healthy eating.

Main topics included the definition of healthy, plant-based foods, and food as medicine.

What Constitutes Healthy

Healthy is ambiguous,” Molde began, and often divided along generational lines. Mental health and basic nutrition rule 2023, with 68% of noted survey respondents saying they simply want to drink more water. Exercise and reducing stress were the second and third largest options, while losing weight and reducing sugar (47%), cooking at home (45%), and eating more natural foods a distant 39%.

Gen Z reported little hypertension but increased levels of anxiety and depression, while Boomers were almost opposite; most experience elevated blood pressure (hypertension) but relatively small amounts of anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is way out front in body mass index (BMI), with almost 40% of Americans overweight. Canada and the U.K. push 30%, while Japan and China report less than 5% overweight. All figures, however, are rising.

“Remarkably, the meal perceived to be the most important – breakfast – is the one consumers enjoy the least,” Molde continued.

“People have less time for breakfast,” Ruhs added, “it’s kind of a grab-and-go.”

Ruhs also noted that getting back to eating more traditional meals at home will probably result in elevated levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, but the world is snacking now more than ever, forgoing larger meals for smaller, faster, and sometimes equally nutritious alternatives.

Datassential revealed simply feeling good is the top motivator to eat healthy, and sugar and unhealthy fats are top-of-mind to avoid for most generations.

Plant-based Foods

The primary reason consumers choose plant-based options is for their health. The fast casual segment is far and away leading the commercialization (and in my cases, visibility) of plant-based alternatives. All market segments from QSR to fine dining are adding plant-based options to their menus, and among that group, fine dining is remarkably on the rise the quickest.

Plant-based meat is undergoing something of a decline; after the debut of brands like Impossible, the market is pushing back on plant-based meat a bit; only 15% of respondents thought plant-based meat tastes better than the real thing. In a hamburger, 20% can’t even tell the difference, and the numbers are very similar for plant-based chicken.

In the plant-based sector, dairy is dominant. Oat milk continues to trend high across menus, and Ruhs even mentioned that lab-grown breast milk is now available for mothers who struggle to produce their own, though it may not be commercially available yet.

“As a dietician, there’s nothing wrong with dairy milk [for your kids],” Ruhs added. “Much of what we miss with plant-based occurs naturally in dairy.”

Food as Medicine

Eighty-three percent of consumers strongly or somewhat agree that “food can be medicine.” What does that truly mean, though? Ruhs and Molde described food as medicine as a “philosophy that food and nutrition aids individuals through interventions that support health and wellness.”

One of the supporting ideas behind food as medicine is that most people can absolutely alter their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes by adjusting what they put in their diet, and brands are taking notice: H-E-B, Kroger, Hannford, and more are beginning to offer many in-store incentives and services in this category.

There’s a ton of innovation in vertically grown leafy green farms as well, with a big emphasis on microbiomes and gut health probiotics. There’s even functional plant-based ice cream that’s boosted with vegan collagen to make you feel better after a scoop or two.

(Editor’s Note: Food Institute members can watch the webinar replay here.)

The Food Institute Podcast

Click the play button above to listen to the episode.

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