Dive Brief:

  • Fat is back with about a third of consumers between ages 18 to 44 saying they want to eat more of it, according to a new five-year study from New Nutrition Business cited by Baking Business.
  • There is a disconnect between older and younger consumers since only 23% of those between ages 55 to 64 said they are interested in introducing more fat into their diets. But results are still mixed. New Nutrition Business’ additional survey findings found a near-equal proportion of shoppers agree with one of the following two statements: “fat is not bad” (9%) and “all fat is bad” (8%).  
  • As younger consumers are embracing more fat in their diets, companies are releasing products to cater to that demand. These include General Mills’ Oui brand, which is launching a crème fraîche product, and Love Good Fats, which recently closed a $10.7 million funding round to expand its reach. Old-fashioned butter has also seen a surge in demand.

Dive Insight:

The increased demand for fat has coincided with consumers shunning carbs and sugar. People are increasingly linking the consumption of these food groups with unhealthy eating habits, and are actively working to eliminate them from diets. About 16% of Americans said fat is most likely to cause weight gain, while 48% said it was carbs and sugars, according to the study. 

Sarah Schmansky, vice president of Nielsen’s fresh and health wellness division, said last year 50% of consumers planned to limit their sugar intake by purchasing “no sugar added” products. At the same time, low-carb diets including keto, which also extol the virtues of fats, have surged in popularity.

In conjunction with the move away from sugar and carbs, consumers are increasingly chasing clean-label alternatives to products that feature natural, recognizable ingredients. These trends have, in turn, spawned a new age for fats in the diet. Specialty oils and butter have benefited from clean-label trends as well as fad diets like keto, which require high fat intake. Butter also has gained ground, thanks to shoppers avoiding more processed alternatives, including margarine.

There are some limitations to the amount of fat that is considered healthy, though. According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, calories from fat can comprise up to 35% of a person’s total daily intake. The guidelines recommend keeping saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of calories per day. A 2018 study also found that high-fat ketogenic diets could increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Even with these recommendations, some consumers are reaching for foods that can lead to exceeding them. USDA data shows 70% of the U.S. population typically exceeds the recommended intake of saturated fat. Coconut oil, which became popular several years ago, is about 90% saturated fat, according to Harvard Medical School. Butter is about 64% saturated fat.

While fats are currently in vogue, this is a view that will likely continue to evolve. Much as there is a generational divide between consumers seeking out more fat and those who grew up in an era when less fat was considered healthy, this pendulum will continue to swing as a new generation comes of age. Nevertheless, current trends indicate it is unlikely for this to alter abruptly, and high-fat products from natural sources will continue to appeal to consumers.

With the forecast continuing to indicate fats remain a sought-after addition to products, it will not be a surprise to see more companies continue to catering to this demand. Some may even develop fats adapted to feature more of the healthy nutritional profiles that consumers seek.

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