When it comes to healthy foods, knowledgeable consumers are now the norm. Food manufacturers are making efforts to communicate nutritional benefits and most recently, protein has been gaining attention as a health trend with more consumers seeking out innovative new products that will keep them satisfied and healthy. One doctor who saw the potential of protein as far back as the 1970s is Robert Atkins, who founded the Atkins Diet, which though controversial, rose in popularity in the early 2000s. We talked to Joe Scalzo, president and CEO of Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., about current health and wellness trends in grocery and how the industry is — or isn’t — addressing those trends.
What are the three biggest trends you’re seeing right now as far as consumer demand and the health and wellness category go?
The health and wellness landscape has been rapidly changing over the past few years. Bestselling books like Nina Teicholz’s “The Big Fat Surprise” and Dr. David Permutter’s “Grain Brain” are challenging conventional wisdom on exactly what is s healthy balanced approach to eating. Consumers are increasingly making different choices in their foods — they are dialing back their intake of sugars and carbohydrates, which can be seen in the declines of sugary drinks, breakfast cereals, milk and bread, all of which are high in carbohydrates and sugars. They are embracing the consumption of protein to strengthen their bodies and provide the satiety they need to help them avoid unhealthy snacking. It is easy to see this trend in the nutritional aisle where brands are calling out the grams of protein in snack bars and the rapid expansion of protein drinks as healthy between meal snacks.
And lastly, consumers are understanding more and more the benefit of consuming healthy fats — like nuts, avocados and olive oil, all of which have been popularized by the trend toward Mediterranean cuisine. Our business has benefited from all three of these trends. In fact, it was nearly 50 years ago that Dr. Atkins espoused the health and wellness benefits of a balanced low carbohydrate approach to eating, which encouraged controlling the consumption of carbohydrates while consuming moderate amounts of lean proteins and healthy fats. Consumers seem to be finally catching up to what he discovered in the 1970s.
How has the food consumer evolved in the past 5-10 years?
People are far more aware of what they are consuming and are more educated about nutrition. Consumers have moved past just managing calories when selecting foods or buying based on low-fat or low-sugar claims. They read nutrition panels and look to better understand the macro-nutrient profile of their food choices. More so than ever, consumers are seeking a more balanced nutrient profile — finding the optimal levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates in the foods. They’re more aware that a balanced meal has the right levels of each of these nutrients for them.
Has the industry been reactive or proactive in delivering new products, shaping or addressing trends?
I think the industry has been slow in providing low-sugar and low-carb options to peoples’ favorite foods. Most disturbing is the government has failed to even define what constitutes a low-carbohydrate food so it is difficult to help consumers make smart choices. We at Atkins have taken the opportunity to develop new products to meet this consumer demand including our delicious new single serve pizzas that are currently launching in retail this December – this is suitable for a low-carb lifestyle and it’s high in protein, offering consumers something new in this category.
What are retailers doing to address these trends and how are they working with foodmakers to deliver?
Retailers are doing their part to address these prevailing trends by working with manufacturers on developing innovation plans to include these types of products.
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