How the ‘natural’ food category exploded from a simple 1960’s fad

by | Mar 10, 2017 | Blog

Increased demand for ‘natural’ food causes a full blown category explosion.

How did increased demand for ‘natural’ foods explode from a trend into a full blown category from it’s humble beginnings in the early 60’s (See earlier blog post – So what’s natural and what’s not)? Since then, the NATURAL category has evolved into a whole new phase of growth. Part of the reasons for this is huge upsurge in the ‘natural’ space is the fact that more and more consumers have become “consciously aware” and are now pushing against processed and GMO foods.

Natural is soothing. Natural relieves and relaxes. Natural feels good.

Consumers are actively seeking out more ‘natural’ food and medicine alternatives. As seen by the massive growth in both Organic and natural food markets. Global sales of healthy food products, are estimated to be around $1 trillion, according to Euromonitor. Other forms of natural and “green” products and alternative medicines have also experienced increased demanded in order to fit in with people’s general lifestyles.

Failure to keep up

As a result of the seismic shift and changing consumer tastes and awareness in the natural marketplace, many of those original founders of ‘natural’ food brands, who recorded large success in the past are now losing their ground to newer and fresher competitors in the space.

Why has this happened you may ask?

This is because the growing needs and demands of consumers are constantly in a state of change. Unfortunately these pioneering ‘natural’ food manufactures never evolved at the same rate with them. Their branding and mindset remained stodgy instead of growing at the same pace as it’s ‘natural’ food consumers. As a result these businesses lost significance.

Every day there are vast numbers of new brand entrants into the ‘natural’ food market category. And, like their legacy, obsolete ‘natural’ food counterparts, many of these new entrants tend to preoccupy and focus heavily just on the factual characteristics of ‘natural’ products. They fixate on information such as the ingredients their products must contain to be ‘natural’ and how these nutrients are being influenced and affected across their distribution channels. These strictly ‘natural’ food manufactures focus on the outer fringe consumer demand and whilst their motives are indeed fitting, the mainstream consumer and their needs are unpredictable and faddish. Consumers are still consumers!

Consumers are fickle

Unfortunately many of these hard-line ‘natural’ food companies have struggled to grow simply because they have failed to grasp the fickle nature of the consumer. When it comes to what they eat, the mainstream consumer has both an aspirational component to their diet and a “balance” component. This disconnect says that whilst yes, they want healthy ‘natural’ food products, they also want indulgent products too. Yes they “want their cake and they want to eat it too!”

The ‘natural’ food category is not a fad

While the health fads and trends have come and gone, the ‘natural’ food category appears to have serious legs. Three in five Australian adults recently polled said they were more likely to buy products described as natural. In the Nielsen 2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey, (polling over 30,000 individuals online) pointed out that consumer mindset about healthy foods has shifted. In fact, 88% of those consumers which were polled stated they were actually willing to even pay more for products that claim to boost health and weight loss. Those polled included all demographics who across the board, from Gen Z’s to Baby Boomers, also said that they would willingly pay more for healthy, GMO-free foods which have no artificial coloring/flavors and that are presumed to be ‘natural’. Consumers say they are looking for foods that Nielsen termed “Functional foods.” Foods that promote stress or disease reduction and promote good health are also seen as desirable. These functional foods include foods high in fiber (36%), high in protein (32%) and whole grains (30%). They also include foods fortified with calcium (30%), and vitamins (30%) or minerals (29%).

Corporate Giants are jumping on the ‘natural’ food category bandwagon

As the mainstream consumer becomes more and more interested in knowing what’s in their food, the demand for simpler ingredients has gained momentum. A trend that industry observers say is only just beginning. Just look at the example of sugar. As sugar is gaining more and more notoriety, consumers are opting for sugar free ‘natural’ alternatives. This is a rend that will keep growing.

Australia’s major food retailers, Coles, Woolworth’s, Costco and IGA and the fast food giants like McDonald’s are serious about the shifts in increased consumer demand for healthier and more natural ingredients. As a result these corporate giants are pushing their food manufactures and suppliers to overhaul their product lines to be more in line with the consumer’s need for more fresh and natural. Even the look and feel of the retail stores have taken on a more “whole foods” appearance.

Food manufacture responds to the growth of ‘natural’ food

Food manufactures are succumbing to demand pressures from retailers and the consumer and have started responding to the ‘natural’ food swing by replacing artificial colors and flavors with natural ingredients. Still others have removed GMO ingredients and many are even changing their factory farming methods and suppliers to those raising pork and chicken under more humane conditions.(As consumers protest against animals given antibiotics and cage farming).

Those food manufactures and suppliers who are unwilling or unable to find new ways to produce or supply ‘natural’ food products risk falling behind competitors keeping up with changing consumer demand.

As consumers look to prevent disease, to prolong their health naturally as they search for ways to live optimally, the race to be more ‘natural’ food will just keep growing and gaining momentum.

According to FMCG Magazine

Almost three quarters of the population (72.4%) now say they enjoy food from all over the world (up from 65.5% in 2006), while 57.3% report buying much more fresh or chilled foods than they used to (up from 53.1%).

Food without additives in it has become increasingly popular (last year, 49.9% of Aussies made an effort to buy it, compared with 46.0% in 2006). Buying the same food each week is at 36.5%, up from 28.7%.

Find out how Jam&Co can help make your branding and packaging design more ‘natural’ contact us .