Food, nutrition and health trends will come and go, but one shift is here to stay – namely, the rising power of the consumer.

No longer willing to be passive bystanders to their health requirements, consumers, both old and young, are increasingly taking control of their own health and weight management and recognising that health is intrinsically linked to individual food and lifestyle choices.

Tapping into consumer interest

The acknowledgement that each individual has his or her own nutritional profile and responds to ingredients in a different way is a factor that is being used to incredible effect by technology providers. Fuelled by a love of data and armed with an abundance of statistics at their fingertips, consumers (and, in particular, millennials) are shaping the future of the nutritional market by demanding products that meet their individual needs.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ‘free-from’ market, which has taken the nutritional market by storm and shows no signs of slowing down. ‘Free-from’ offerings continue to expand and comprise everything from gluten free, dairy free (particularly in the form of alternative milks, such as rice, coconut, almond or oat), wheat free (such as rice, corn and buckwheat flours) to, more recently, refined sugar free (with an increased focus on ‘natural’ sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, dates and coconut sugar).

The gluten-free desire

Indeed, gluten free has become a lifestyle choice rather than a medical necessity; despite the increased price tag and the mixed scientific evidence behind the benefits of a gluten-free diet (for those without intolerances), eating gluten-free has become something of a badge of clean living. The number of gluten-free consumers far exceeds the number of those suffering from coeliac disease or gluten-related intolerances. Baked goods, pasta and biscuits still dominate the gluten-free market (largely driven by demand from millennials), tapping into the desire for guilt-free indulgence foods.

Alongside this is an increasing shift towards ‘naturally gluten-free’ products, such as ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, freekeh and teff to name but a few), as well as seeds, legumes and pulses. Products such as ‘super waters’ (including coconut water and, more recently, maple water), ‘healthy snacks’, probiotic yoghurts, nuts, green tea (particularly matcha), cacao and the so-called superfoods have become mainstream. The constant search for new and novel ingredients continues to gain pace alongside a resurgence in more traditional ingredients, such as fermented foods, turmeric and probiotic yoghurts.

Healthy price tags

Consumer tastes are notoriously fickle and are liable to change in line with marketing and media claims as well as the latest scientific research findings, but they point us towards underlying behaviours and drivers that are here to stay. An ageing population faced with chronic disease (such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease) combined with a younger generation of health-conscious consumers with a higher level of disposable income and a willingness to pay a premium for making healthy choices will continue to drive the demand for nutritional products in a variety of forms.

Consumer choices are not always based on good science, but on the desire to feel empowered and a trend towards personalised nutritional requirements, self-diagnosis and self-medication. The ability of individuals not only to make specific food and lifestyle choices based upon these requirements, but to see the results of this in the form of data, gives them a perceived sense of control over their own wellbeing.

Predicting the future

What this means for nutritional products is that whole, natural and predominately plant-based ingredients, whether in foods, drinks or supplements, are likely to prevail. The demand for products containing only a few, recognisable ingredients without additives or preservatives, is likely to contribute to an increase in products that are natural and unprocessed. This goes hand in hand with a growing focus on the provenance of our products, with consumers now more inclined to purchase directly from small, independent companies.

Catering to our ever-changing tastes requires speed, innovation and agility on the part of companies. The convergence between the health, food and pharmaceutical sectors has never been more necessary; this fragmented market is ripe with opportunity for companies of all sizes to collaborate in new ways, to combine innovative, quick thinking with a longer term view and, above all, to keep the consumer at the heart of everything they do.

About Katrina Lytton

Katrina is KPMG’s UK Nutrition Lead, managing its sales, strategy and operations. Her background includes five years of experience advising a variety of clients in the pharmaceutical, consumer goods and retail (particularly food and drink) sectors. A keen health and fitness enthusiast, Katrina is passionate about wellness and nutrition, both personally and professionally. She is inspired by, and takes a keen interest in being involved with, organisations that seek to change the way individuals and businesses see food and exercise for the better. She has recently undertaken study in nutrition at the College of Naturopathic Medicine.