Changing Consumer Attitudes Toward “Low Fat” and What it Means for Food Manufacturers

Changing_Consumer_Attitudes_Toward_Low_Fat
For years, medical professionals promoted a low-fat diet as a positive lifestyle choice. Attitudes have shifted among professionals and consumers alike in recent years, and the distinction between healthy and bad-for-you fats is being more widely recognized.

The use of low-fat and fat-free products has seen a slow decline for the past five years and is expected to continue that trajectory. Consumer trends have shifted toward overall health benefits that result from higher protein contents and natural ingredients.

Is there still a place for low-fat products and how will changing consumer behaviors impact the market? Let’s first take a look at why the shift is taking place.

The History of the Low-Fat Movement

For decades, there’s been a war on fat. The fears instilled in consumers over fat-laden foods began back in the 1970s when scientists found evidence that foods containing saturated fat, such as eggs and meat, could raise LDL cholesterol and thus increase the occurrence of heart disease. The U.S. Senate even had a hearing that eventually resulted in the first set of dietary guidelines for Americans.

One of the main recommendations was to remove dietary fat and replace it with carbohydrates. Unfortunately, most Americans didn’t make a distinction between the kinds of carbs they should consume, such as fruits and whole grains versus refined carbohydrates. It didn’t help that many food manufacturers began promoting low-fat products that replaced fat with vast amounts of sugar, fillers and artificial ingredients to make up for the loss in flavor and texture.

Consequently, some low-fat products actually contained more calories than their full-fat counterparts, and many consumers falsely believed that because a product had less fat, they could eat more of it. As a result, calorie consumption for the average American inched higher and higher to around 500 calories more per day. The inches around their waists grew, too.

Ironically enough, the incidents of two major risk factors for heart disease — obesity and diabetes — have nearly quadrupled since the dietary guidelines were issued as a way to prevent heart disease.

A Shift in Consumer Attitudes Toward Low Fat

Consumers are catching on that quality matters much more than quantity. People who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed products, and concentrate on eating vegetables and other natural foods are shown to lose significantly more weight.

Habits die hard, however, and dispelling a 40-year-old mantra is difficult for some. There are still many who prefer the lower-fat option when given the choice, with only a 6% drop among consumers who say they prefer “low-fat” or “fat-free” products. What has seen a significant shift is the number of consumers who want to know the whole story —  approximately half will read labels to check for added sugars, chemical additives, artificial flavors and difficult-to-pronounce ingredients.

What it Means for Food Manufacturers

There still remains a demand for low-fat and fat-free foods, but manufacturers will need to shift their focus toward the overall health claims of products. Many food manufacturers have already joined the clean-label craze and are seeing positive results. Even though reformulating food to be healthier using all-natural ingredients can sometimes come with added costs, most consumers are fortunately willing to pay for it. In addition to clean labels, corporate transparency, sustainable practices and ethical sourcing continue to gain momentum among consumer trends.

Capturing this new wave of consumer preferences is a challenge for many food manufacturers. Returning to the days of using fresh eggs and dairy in soups, dips, dressings, baked goods, desserts and other savory foods, for example, brings with it a host of issues including limited shelf life and a host of formulation problems. Another major hurdle is the volatile pricing of fresh ingredients which can eat away at profits and make marketing products to cost-conscious consumers more difficult.

All-natural considerations in such applications include Grande Bravo® functional whey protein or Grande Ultra® whey protein isolate. Whey protein is well-recognized and accepted among consumers as a healthy ingredient, and its nutritional claims resonate with their continued desires to manage weight and maintain active lifestyles. Manufacturers can promote the lower fat and calorie content of whey protein compared to traditional ingredients, yet bridge the gap for those also seeking clean labels. And Grande Custom Ingredient Group’s proprietary processes outshine those of commodity whey protein suppliers when it comes to flavor profiles, texture, mouthfeel, durability and the ability to be used in a wide range of applications.

Switching from artificial ingredients to one of our all-natural whey protein concentrates can also result in cost savings when compared to using traditional fresh ingredients, allowing food manufacturers to achieve all the functionality and flavor while still remaining profitable.

Nutritional benefits, clean labels and cost savings are just a few reasons to use whey protein in your formulations, but there are many more. Check out our resource below to see what we mean, and if you’d like to learn more about the unique properties of our whey protein ingredients and how they can improve your products and profits, reach out.

Top 10 Reasons to Use Whey Protein - Tip Sheet