Margarine is good. Margarine is bad. Diet soda is the key to weight loss. Diet soda will give you cancer. Fat free is the way to be. Fat is your friend. No sugar. Yes sugar, no high fructose corn syrup. Hooray for cane sugar!
When it comes to defining what is “healthy,” the pendulum swings one way and then back again, leaving marketers and food executives frustrated as they try to figure out what consumers want and are willing to buy. In her article, “Foods Loaded With Sugar, Salt, and Fat? Bring It,” Stephanie Strom examines the latest public opinion around diet options. Ingredients that spent years on the blacklist are now back with a vengeance, IF their reemergence on the scene is in the right context. Examples of this include dark chocolate, jerky, and full fat ice cream. Foods that, in the not too distant past, were seen as unhealthy, are now back due to the increase in consumer demand stemming, in part, from new scientific studies that show fat, salt, and sugar are not black and white issues.
Food companies who spent years reducing or eliminating these three ingredients from their products must now dig up old recipes or re-position existing foods to meet new consumer ideas of what constitutes “healthy.” Jerky is capitalizing on the protein trend and has achieved great success as the protein content and “real food” benefits outweigh any fat or salt concern among consumers. Edy’s ice cream is bolstering their full fat varieties and making them with fewer ingredients, and shoppers are cheering all the way to the checkout counter. While the context of ingredients is key, the ingredients themselves (Are they familiar names? Can I pronounce them? Do I know what the ingredients are?) and the taste of the final product are just as important.
Understanding consumer desire is not a new topic for market research. However, the return to full fat, salt, and real sugar is a signal that sometimes returning to the roots is more beneficial than constantly innovating what’s new and next. Innovation for the sake of innovation can lose sight of what’s most important: what the consumer is wanting. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, perhaps it is time to re-purpose it to align with consumer demand, thus allowing for the option of a whole category’s rejuvenation.