So, what is healthy anyway?

* 4 min read
At the end of the 20th century, eating healthily was all about low fat, reduced calories and getting your five a day. But over time, our understanding of ‘health’ has evolved to something far more complex, making every consumer their own personal health advisor.

When health and nutrition is constantly making headlines, and with more and more influencers selling their latest recipe for long-life and lean muscles on social media, we’re increasingly picking and choosing the rules that work best for us, whether that be clean eating, ‘flexitarianism’ or high protein snacking to support our fitness goals. And it’s not just about physical health. In a time-poor economy, health is about more than just food; it’s about convenience, indulgence, mental health and me time. And when all those factors are thrown into the mix, we’re willing to compromise on being ‘healthy’ for being ‘healthier’, as we take a more holistic view of our lifestyles. ‘Self-care’ is becoming a major focus, as we try to escape stress and negativity in the wider world around us.

"'Healthy-ish' - a more relaxed attitude to wellness that allows indulgences and more flexible diets, and considers enjoyment of food to be as important as the health benefits."

WGSN New Wellness Foods 2018 Report,

Of course, traditional communications around the nutritional content of food still matter; according to a European study by IRI, 70 per cent of shoppers across Europe still look for foods with less salt, sugar, fat or calories. Last year in Ireland, the Department of Health published ‘A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan', with health initiatives planned up until 2025. This is already beginning to have an impact on the Irish consumer, with 60 per cent now taking steps to eat foods high in vitamins and minerals and increase their fibre intake, which is already inspiring major changes to the average shopping basket. Data from The Consumer Goods Forumvi (CGF) revealed that more than 180,000 products were reformulated globally in 2016, with 75 per cent of brands and retailers claiming they had reformulated products, with salt and sugar the main targets for reduction and wholegrains and vitamins the most added. The Government is taking decisive action too; in the November 2017 budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed that soft drinks with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml will see a tax hike this year, with penalties in place as early as April.

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Industry-wide reformulation with Government targets in mind is designed to affect population-level intakes, specifically “of concern” nutrients such as salt, sugar and saturated fat.

“In a competitive marketplace this strategy helps to ensure products are not disadvantaged if, for example, every brand tastes as salty as the next,” says Sally Moore, senior lecturer in food and nutrition at Leeds Trinity University.

“However, a lack of differentiation between nutrient values when comparing labels doesn’t help products ‘stand out from the crowd’ as an obvious healthy choice. Interestingly, some companies use media and marketing messages to help communicate their commitment to reach these targets as a differentiator, as we’ve seen recently in 2017 with a large sugar reduction pledge in Kellogg’s children’s cereals.”

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Other categories that were once resistant to focusing on health are getting in on the action too; the launch of Skinny Lager this year (89 calories a bottle, reduced sugar, low carb, vegan and gluten-free) signals a growing awareness of the impact alcohol has on your diet. The rise of popcorn and meat-based options like biltong and jerky in the snack aisle show we’re even compromising on products that were once considered an indulgence.

Plant-based snacks derived from nuts, seeds and seaweed are already hitting the mainstream, and chickpea-based snacks saw 150 per cent growth last yearix. The US and Asia are seeing launches including vegan jerky – trends that soon spread to the European market, particularly as our willingness to experiment with new flavours and ingredients increases.

According to the Waitrose Food and Drink Report 2017x, squeezing a fourth meal into our day is becoming more and more acceptable, and is a trend that’s set to continue. Mintel researchxi shows that Gen Z in particular are a generation of erratic eaters and snackers, with nearly four in five (79 per cent) of consumers aged 16-24 snacking once a day or more, compared to 62 per cent of snackers over the age of 55.

However, there is also widespread dissatisfaction at the range of snacking options available, despite the growing NPD in this category, making it an area brands and retailers focused on delivering on snackers’ needs can tap in to. Some brands, like Chicago-based protein bar company RXBAR are using packaging to tap into this demand for clean eating snack options, by listing its minimal ingredient decs on front of pack in bold text as its primary front of pack design. New brands are stepping in with reformulated versions of favourite products, making wellness swaps easy.