Desire for perfect body fails to feed demand for low fat food
According to a recent report by Mintel, sales of diet and weight control food are down. However reviewing the results of virtually any body image survey reveals that on the whole people are unhappy with their body image. Considering that achieving an ideal and often lower weight is an ambition shared by many, the downturn in the diet food market comes as something of a surprise.
Weight loss can be motivated by health issues but more often than not appearance is the driving factor. Continued focus on super skinny or muscle bound images may have contributed to some becoming more body conscious. Mass media is far less reserved than in the past and the rate of its consumption has also been massively accelerated through the use digital media. A study by About.com revealed that 51% of those surveyed felt Facebook made them feel more body-conscious and that they compared their body to photos of friends. In Europe where the use of social media is less than that of the UK and USA, so too are levels of obesity. If people have a clearly desire to lose weight, what factors may be contributing to this curious misfire?
Obesity costs in the billions
According to the UK department of health, NHS costs caused by obesity are now estimated to be £5.1 billion per year and rising and in the USA Reuters reports that obesity is now adding over $190 billion to the cost of national healthcare. Obesity also eats into the wider economy with time spent out of work, rising cost of life insurance to employers and low wages for obese households all having a negative effect. However, governmental intervention has been somewhat light-handed. The Danish government scrapped a fat tax after one year and cancelled a proposed sugar tax stating that the increased prices would have a negative effect on the economy.
However the standardised food labelling system proposed for 2013 may help to provide much needed nutritional clarity for consumers. A recent investigation by Which? found that a sample of 12 ‘light’, ‘reduced’ and ‘low-fat’ foods contained minimal differences in calorie content compared with standard products. Which? said its research also uncovered misconceptions among consumers about what the terms “reduced fat” and “light” mean. Products labelled with these terms only have to contain 30% less fat than the standard version, yet only 16% of people surveyed understood this. Clear nutritional information may help consumers to build trust in fat and calorie-reduced products. It would also support retailers to rebuild sales in this category, such as supermarket’s own label healthy ranges, which according to a survey by Brand View have been disappearing from shelves over the past year.
Fast lives feed market for fast and convenience foods
Turbulent economic conditions paired with rising food prices may also play a part in the decline in fat and calorie reduced food purchases. Greater working demands for less reward can mean less time or money to spend at the gym or on preparing meals. People may want to be thin, but without time or money, they can often turn to faster or cheaper options that may be bulked up with fat or added calories for taste. Fat and calories are also thriving at the more expensive and indulgent end of the food spectrum. According to Mintel, sales of cakes, biscuits and pastries across Western Europe were worth €8.56 billion in 2012, making it a large and growing market.
The proof is in the eating and many consumers want product satisfaction, particularly in terms of taste, which is something that previous fat and calorie-reduced products may have failed to deliver. If new ingredient innovations can deliver on their promise of great tasting food without the fat and calories, then food manufacturers could kick the stigma of unsatisfying, tasteless food in stripy green packaging, which could see the category make a return in 2013.