As Americans we have become a nation with sharp divisions, opinions, and preferences. And we’re not talking about politics or religion. We’re talking about food. According to an article in the Nutrition Business Journal, almost half of adults say that they identify with at least one “food tribe.” Food restrictions, food allergies, or avoiding certain ingredients dictate specific diets for 44% of the population, according to a 2014 Packaged Facts report.
Whatever the reason behind these allegiances to specific diets (whether it’s weight loss, health concerns, or something else), there’s no doubt “they are having a broad impact on the way people eat, and across the continuum of manufacturers, retailers and food service operators, they are all being forced to respond,” says Amanda Topper, a food analyst for market research firm Mintel.
As marketers, it’s our responsibility to be educated on consumers’ unique food preferences so that we are able to stay ahead of consumer demand and then anticipate and meet their needs. Let’s take a deeper look at the food tribes driving the purchase decisions of today’s consumers:
Gluten-free – Gluten-free has been a popular buzz word during the last few years, as sales of gluten-free foods climbed to 63% from 2012 to 2014. Opportunities for future marketing in this arena, however, may be dwindling. Food and beverage industry analyst Darren Seifer of the NPD Group says gluten-free product sales peaked at the end of 2013. He advises companies to use caution and carefully consider cost before jumping into the gluten-free world.
Paleo – According to research by Hamilton Stapell, a history professor with the State University of New York, New Paltz, between 1 and 3 million people belong to this food tribe. The Paleo diet places an emphasis on consuming meat and other high fat foods. As government and health organizations continue to publish anti-meat messages, the cause of the Paleo diet suffers. Marketers, though, have an opportunity with this tribe if they can offer meat and whole foods in convenient packages.
Vegan – Just 4 percent of U.S. consumers are strictly vegetarian, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, and about half of those are vegan. While a much smaller segment compared to others food tribes, Vegans are extremely passionate about their food preferences. Mintel’s Topper says that if companies do want to target the vegetarian/vegan segment, they should aim for millennials. Nine percent of that group is vegetarian.
Sugar-free – Sugar is now considered the “demon” when it comes to ingredients we try to avoid. Sixty-five percent of consumers look for products that contain “no added sugar,” according to market research firm Eurominitor. The real opportunity with this tribe is to develop more products made with natural, zero-calorie sweeteners such as monk fruit, stevia, and xylitol.
The Biohackers – This tribe uses technology to find out exactly what’s going on in their bodies and then tailor their diets to meet those needs. One may test for anemia, for example, and then choose food and supplements best suited to address their concern. This tribe is just getting started, and marketers should keep a close eye on emerging technologies to take their cues for opportunities within the niche.
Where is the greatest area of opportunity for your company? Investing in qualitative research is one of the best ways to determine the unique needs of your consumers. Our proven research methods such as deep dive in-home ethnographies or online ethnographies, will provide the insights you need to understand today’s food tribes, tomorrow’s trends, and what your consumers need right now.