You are here

Restaurants, food companies cater to the diets du jour

July 31, 2018

SmartBrief  |  by Tricia Contreras

Whether it’s Paleo, Whole30 or low-sugar, the number of US consumers who subscribe to some type of diet is on the rise. In fact, 36% of Americans reported following a specific eating pattern or diet within the past year, according to the annual Food & Health Survey released in May by the International Food Information Council Foundation. That figure is up from 14% in 2017 (when the question was open-ended).

Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular diets and how they are shaping modern menus and grocery carts -- plus a look at some emerging eating patterns that are primed for growth.

Paleo continues to be popular

Paleo was among the most popular of the diets listed in the survey, with 7% of respondents saying they follow the diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans. The Paleo menu consists mainly of animal protein, vegetables and fruit, and excludes dairy or grain products. American scientist Dr. Loren Cordain first published his book, “The Paleo Diet,” in 2002, and Paleo -- short for paleolithic -- has become a household name.

Although the term Paleo is found on less than 1% of US menus, it has grown 77% over the past four years and 11% over just the last year, according to research from Datassential. Paleo items have also grabbed a portion of packaged food sales. Six percent of shoppers said they purchased an item with Paleo claims in the last 30 days, according to a 2017 consumer survey from Packaged Facts. Two product categories that have gained the most from Paleo buzz are meat snacks and bone broth. US sales of bone broth -- both shelf-stable and refrigerated -- tripled to $19.7 million between 2016 and 2017, and it’s also an increasingly common sight at restaurants.

Spiralized zucchini that acts as a stand-in for traditional noodles has also seen a surge in popularity thanks to the Paleo Diet and other low-carb diets. Zucchini noodles or “zoodles” have seen growth of 299% on menus over the past year, according to Datassential. Noodles & Co, Red Lobster and Le Pain Quotidien have all released LTOs with zoodles in the past year.

Whole30 products cater to at-home eaters

While Paleo is still popular, it may be on the decline as consumers embrace newer plans such as Whole30, Packaged Facts’ Kara Nielsen wrote in the 2017 report Cutting Edge Wellness: Culinary Trend Tracking Series. Five percent of respondents in the IFIC Foundation’s Annual Food and Health Survey said they subscribe to the Whole30 diet.

“Whole30 functions as a detox of sorts and many people try it in hopes of reducing sugar cravings and resetting their general diet. It has broader appeal than Paleo and tends to leave dieters with new positive habits,” Nielsen wrote.

Created by sports nutritionists Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig in 2009, Whole30 has participants eat foods from an approved list for 30 days. Sugar, alcohol, legumes, grains and dairy are all off-limits, as are processed foods -- even those that are made with approved ingredients.

Whole30-compliant meals are very rare in restaurants, perhaps in part because the diet is so restrictive. Since the diet is governed by a strict list of dos and don’ts, consumers who subscribe to Whole30 may also be trained in what to look for on menus, Datassential’s Marie Molde said.

It’s also rare to see Whole30 callouts on packaged foods, since a main tenet of the plan is that participants consume only “whole” foods. One food company that has been able to capitalize on the diet’s popularity is Blue Apron, which partnered with Whole30 this year to launch a line of meal kits.

Coffee builds restaurant buzz for Keto

Another diet that has been gaining popularity is the Ketogenic Diet. The low-carb, high-fat diet forces the body into ketosis, causing it to burn fat instead of glucose for energy. First developed in the 1920’s as a treatment for epilepsy, the diet has recently gained a new following thanks in part to claims by celebrities that it’s a fast way to lose weight. Commonly called Keto, the diet is one that 3% of US consumers follow, according to the Annual Food and Health Survey.

Keto’s resurgence is too recent to have a trend curve just yet, but it’s a buzzword that’s starting to show up on more menus, mostly in the beverage category, Molde said. Coffee drinks blended with fats such as coconut oil and MCT oil are available under several different names including Keto Coffee at Protein Bar & Kitchen.

What’s next: adaptogenic and Ayurvedic

Ayurvedic diets and diets focusing on adaptogens weren’t a choice on the IFIC Foundation’s survey, but both are gaining popularity and already driving a wave of new food and drink products. Five percent of shoppers said they purchased an item with Ayurvedic claims in the last 30 days, according to a 2017 Packaged Facts survey.

Adaptogenic plants have been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years, including Indian Ayurvedic medicine, which is a holistic approach to restoring balance in the body. Popular with yoga practitioners and the growing group of consumers interested in the pursuit of holistic wellness, Ayurvedic and adaptogenic diets have inspired a range of functional foods and beverages.

California-based brand REBBL is one of several beverage brands that highlights adaptogens including reishi mushroom, ashwagandha, maca root and ginseng. Several brands now offer chocolate bars, popcorn and other snacks made with maca root, ashwagandha and reishi mushrooms, according to Packaged Facts.

Turmeric is a mainstay ingredient in Ayurveda, and the spice is showing up in products from beverages to chips. Foods made with ghee, ashwagandha and other Ayurvedic ingredients were one of the top trends from this year’s Fancy Food Show, the Washington Post reported.