The Rise of Replacement Foods

Consumer conversation unveils the replacement food trend

This post originally appeared on CPGMatters.

As the old story goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But is it still really that simple? Health and nutrition has gotten more complex. General health advice like “eat your fruit and veggies” has fragmented into much more specific recommendations about giving up food groups and/or going gluten-free or vegan.

What does this increasingly dogmatic dietary advice mean for the CPG industry? What types of foods are consumers looking for — and looking to avoid? When we analyzed the nutrition conversation online we found that one aspect has exhibited growing popularity in recent years: replacement foods.

Replacement foods are a healthier option to another popular dish, such as cauliflower rice being a low-carb option to rice, zucchini noodles replacing pasta, or our milk coming from almonds instead of cows. The list grows every year, and so does the consumer conversation about them.

Veganism is the most popular dietary choice, but gluten-free and low carb diets have been on the rise. Carbs have been the popular enemy in the weight loss community, and low carb diets like Keto or Atkins have become trendy. Interest in low-fat diets has diminished since 2010.

Consumers are shunning carbs and dairy products — but what are they replacing then with?

As the charts show, there has been a meteoric rise in the conversation around alternative options to unhealthier foods.

In the milk alternative conversation, almond milk rules. Amassing more mentions than all other milk alternatives combined, almond milk has taken off in conversation (and sales) over the past few years.

In the rice conversation, quinoa is king. Quinoa was notably dubbed a superfood, and 2013 is known as the International Year of Quinoa. Quinoa conversation saw one of its first spikes in conversation volume in 2013 and has been growing since. Cauliflower rice has become a trend recently, with almost no conversation until 2017. Farro and couscous have also become more popular recently.

When it comes to pasta, consumers love zoodles (zucchini noodles). Spaghetti squash is also a popular substitute, with over 10,000 mentions monthly. Other veggie noodles, such as beet noodles or sweet potato noodles, also contribute to the conversation.

Why are consumers looking for replacements?

So what are the main reasons people are switching away from milk and gluten products? Is it just the health benefits or is it something else?

Health benefits make up the largest portion of the conversation, but veganism has become one of the leading reasons for giving up dairy milk. Lactose intolerance has become an increasingly popular reason for giving up dairy milk. Taste used to make up about 30% of the conversation, but it has since diminished to only about 20%.

Reasons for giving up rice and pasta, however, are more health-focused, making up upwards of 60% of the conversation. Low carb diets have also become a more popular topic of conversation.

Who is the main audience for replacement foods?

Who’s most interested in finding replacements for common diet staples? Turns out, women are generally more likely to give up a food group, but men are more interested in certain diet options.

When it comes to gluten, women dominate the conversation, making up about 80% of the discussion. However, men are more interested in fat free diets than any other diet change.

Similarly, consumers over 35 are always the majority of the conversation, but millennials are interested in certain diet choices. Consumers over 35 are much more likely to be gluten-free and vegan. Consumers under 35 are more interested in dairy-free, low-carb, or low-fat diets.

What does the rise of replacements mean for CPG brands?

As consumers look for healthier alternatives to popular foods, CPG brands have a great opportunity to create new products to meet demand, but only if they understand the evolving trends.

Brands can take this information and see that consumers are getting more and more interested in replacing less healthy foods and beverages with alternative products. The more options they can provide, the happier their customers will be.

So how are brands capitalizing? And which ones? When looking at top brands selling replacement foods and comparing them to the more traditional food brands, there is a clear difference in consumer sentiment. The replacement brands, Almond Breeze almond milk and 365 and GoGo Quinoa, have higher positive sentiment than the more traditional brands, Nestle milk and Minute Rice.

Seeing higher positive sentiment for these newer products shows that consumers want more options when it comes to dietary staples like dairy and rice. Americans want healthier options, and leaning into these consumer dietary trends can help a brand’s reputation benefiting the brand in the long run.

For more information on grocery industry trends, read this report: CPG Grocery and Nutrition Trends Report

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