It wasn’t long ago that choosing prepared foods was 100 percent driven by convenience. But thanks to Millennials’ and Boomers’ keen interest in healthy foods, today’s food landscape looks radically different. Learn how health and wellness are making inroads into the prepared foods industry—from whole grain bowls to plant-based meats to customized nutrition.
Which Foods Consumers Perceive as Healthy: A Look at the Research
Each year the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation surveys consumers about their changing perceptions of food. According to the results of IFIC’s 2019 Food & Health Survey, when consumers were asked to rate the healthfulness of various foods, ingredients, and nutrients, those at the top were:
- Whole grains
- Protein from plant sources
- Omega-3 fatty acids
These also led as the foods, ingredients, or nutrients they were trying to consume in their diets.
So what does this mean for prepared foods? Prepared foods—from produce department fresh veggie bowls to shelf-stable, heat-and-eat meals to frozen entrees—that can deliver on healthiness as well as convenience stand to win big. The right better-for-you claim is an effective way to stand out from the competition and gain brand loyalty.
Fiber and Whole Grains
Savvy prepared foods manufacturers have been paying close attention to the grams of fiber on their nutrition labels. With 83 percent of U.S. adults reporting some kind of digestive problem, according to Mintel,2 digestive health is a major driver of high fiber and fiber-fortified food purchases. Other drivers include weight loss and management, blood sugar control, and heart health. Most Americans are not consuming enough fiber, making it a nutrient of public health concern.
Trending strategies for incorporating more fiber into prepared foods include replacing refined grains with whole grains, such as using brown rice in rice-based dishes and whole wheat in pasta-based dishes. Fortifying with fiber is another option—for example, adding a custom nutrient premix containing a blend of fibers to pizza crusts in order to make a fiber claim. Attention-grabbing claims include “excellent source of fiber,” “good source of fiber,” and “made with whole grains,” along with a grams of fiber call-out on the front of the package.
The health halo around plant protein suggests that manufacturers who wish to capitalize on the high protein trend should consider formulating with plant protein. The lower saturated fat, absence of cholesterol, and sustainability associated with plant protein sources can help boost the image of any prepared food.
Incorporating beans into veggie or grain bowls (particularly those made with whole grains) has been a popular way to add plant protein. A newer approach is adding plant-based meats—especially to frozen prepared foods, including entrees, appetizers, and pizzas. Plant-based meat as a category grew 10 percent in the past year, according to the Plant Based Foods Association,3 and shows no signs of slowing. An effective front-of-package claim will indicate the number of grams of plant protein in the product.
Functional and Customized Nutrition
Beyond the right types and amounts of essential nutrients, functional nutrients can be used to give a prepared food a better-for-you competitive edge. Probiotics and omega-3s are just two in-demand options. These can be added to a prepared food through a custom nutrient premix, singly or in combination with other functional nutrients.
A custom nutrient premix can also support products that deliver customized nutrition, such as a keto product with MCTs or a vegan product fortified with vitamin B12. Developing a customized nutrition product requires a deep understanding of the target consumer since what’s in the product may be just as important as what’s not. Free-from requirements can include gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free, for example.