The unstoppable health trend: does function beat flavour?


Food plays an important role in terms of energy and health. As consumers are increasingly striving for a healthier lifestyle, food is becoming more and more important. The Taste Tomorrow survey shows that consumers across the whole world are placing ever-growing importance on what they eat, and have ever-rising expectations about their food combined with health. Taste Tomorrow spoke with food trendwatcher Frank Lindner from Food Inspiration, the Netherlands-based trend and inspiration platform.

The unstoppable health trend: does function beat flavour?

Food as internal cosmetics
According to Lindner, the health trend is clearly evolving, and is slowly but surely becoming mainstream. “While healthy food was a niche in the eighties and nineties, and mainly something for hippies and environmentalists, it is now a lifestyle choice for a growing number of people. More and more consumers are embracing healthy eating.”

Lindner sees that the health trend primarily has a lot of traction in Western cultures, especially among the younger generation and those who are more well-off. “But”, emphasises Lindner, “it is very clear that everywhere, worldwide, a growing number of consumers see food as their internal cosmetics. Our notion about food is changing from regarding it as a nutritious necessity to something cleansing and healing. Trendsetting consumers are increasing looking at the relationship between calories and nutrients. They are asking themselves: how does a product affect my body? Does it contribute to more balanced behaviour and calmer thoughts? Does the item have a clean label? We don't only want to look good externally, but internally too. There is also a growing body of academic research on the role of our food and health. I predict that, in the coming years, sub-trends of the health trend, such as veganism or not drinking alcohol, will become mainstream.”

The unstoppable health trend: does function beat flavour?

Health is all over the place
What strikes Linder is that the changes are happening very quickly in all sectors: from food service to retail and industry. “There are vegan, no-waste gastronomic restaurants such as Farm Spirit in Portland. And in the fast casual and to-go market, we are seeing an incredible growth in the number of food concepts whose key selling point is health. Examples include the healthy to-go concept Oh My Green in Budapest, US salad bowl chain Cava, and the Health Food Wall at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport where you can grab a healthy meal or snack out of a vending machine.”

A lot is happening in the world of snacks and fast food as well, continues Lindner. “Fast food chains are serving veggie burgers. In Sweden, Burger King consumers can choose items from the ‘50-50 menu’. This means you don't know if your burger or sandwich contains meat or is vegetarian. Why is the fast food chain doing this? Because they are so convinced that their plant-based alternative is just as tasty as the meat product.”

Lindner says the retail sector and industry are not being left behind either. “Look at the shelves in the supermarket: the number of meat substitutes has grown massively in recent years. And in industry you see that larger companies are taking over smaller players in order to acquire their knowledge, such as Unilever acquiring Dutch company ‘De Vegetarische Slager’ (ed. The Vegetarian Butcher).”   

The unstoppable health trend: does function beat flavour?

Function over flavour
The Taste Tomorrow survey shows that, according to consumers, a healthy product is no longer just about reducing or removing 'bad' ingredients such as sugar, fat or salt. Nowadays, consumers expect that the removal of unhealthy ingredients will go hand in hand with the addition of healthier ingredients, so-called power ingredients, such as fibres and proteins. Lindner recognises this trend, and sees it as a long-term development and one that is widely spread, geographically speaking. “In the US it's already very normal for you to eat or drink something because of its function. In some cases, it has almost become function over flavour.”

Although health may be very important, the Taste Tomorrow research illustrates that this can never be to the detriment of taste. In other words, consumers want products that are both tasty and healthy. Lindner partly agrees with this: “For the majority of consumers, taste will always be the most important factor. But I predict that there will be a large consumer group that is purely focused on function, as well as a group who combine tasty and less healthy meals with functional, healthy but less tasty snacks and items.”

The unstoppable health trend: does function beat flavour?

Future of health
The Taste Tomorrow survey also reveals that consumers are optimistic about healthy food in the future. The majority of consumers across the globe expect that, in the future, food will be as healthy as it is now, or even healthier. In fact, Lindner expects that this trend will grow further and that health will become mainstream for more and more consumer groups. He also predicts a counter-trend of food populism in response. “There are consumer groups who believe that they should not be patronised and for whom burgers and fries will remain a cult.”

For Lindner, another future development coupled to the health trend is the growth of the number of wearables, apps and devices that help people to make healthy choices. “Smart contact lenses, smart watches, scanners and implants guide consumer choices in restaurants and supermarkets. Finally, I can see a big role for personalised food in future. For instance, just because a glass of orange juice every morning is good for you, it does not necessarily mean it's good for me too. People are going to embrace diets and make food choices based on their DNA and their gut, as it is these that truly tell us what options are the healthiest for us.”

Want to learn more about the important role of health in food? Read the health trend explanation. Or discover more about the other key trend, which is taste.

You might also be interested in the interview with Jason Cohen who developed a specialised artificial intelligence platform for the Food & Beverage industry that understands what consumers taste. In this interview he explains how to measure and adapt to evolving taste preferences.