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Is 'diet' a dirty word, or can brands have their cake and eat it too?

Marie Stafford of the innovation group at J Walter Thompson intelligence shares results of the agency’s latest study into the future of food and drink.

Diet marketing could be a thing of the past. Consumers are no longer motivated by ‘diet’ claims. But as one door closes, others open, with emerging trends pointing to new routes to tickling taste buds.

According to our research, ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims are now most persuasive when it comes to food and drink. Only 15 per cent of British consumers find a ‘diet’ claim ‘very influential’, and just 14 per cent deem products labelled as ‘diet’ as ‘very appealing’.

Some diet brands are shifting their messaging accordingly. In the US, Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine announced a move away from weight-loss to a strategy centred on self-esteem.

A confluence of factors is behind this shift, chief among them a new interpretation of healthy eating which centres on ingredients that are natural, nourishing and, crucially, tempting too.

The ‘healthy indulgence’ trend is driven in part by a new wave of Instagram-friendly wellness bloggers. The likes of Ella Woodward and Madeleine Shaw are helping to inspire and define this trend with recipes that deliver taste without the subtext of self-denial.

Meanwhile, as sugar and additives in low-fat and diet foods come under greater scrutiny, fat is undergoing an unlikely rehabilitation. Influencers are championing the benefits of good fat – in particular coconut oil – not only for health, but also for radiant skin.

Increasingly food means more to consumers than mere sustenance. Consumers want to feel good about the choices they make: 79 per cent of British respondents would support a brand which helped society become healthier, while 66 per cent would make changes to their diet to reduce their impact on the planet.

Beauty aspirations are shifting too, with a new focus on fitness and strength, rather than weightloss alone.

So consumers’ needs are increasingly complex and holistic when it comes to food: they want products that are healthy and tasty, deliver on wellbeing as well as on ethics. Food and drink brands will have to navigate these diverse expectations, ensuring we can have our healthy cake, and eat it too.

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