Are better-for-you foods good enough?

Fifty-percent less saturated fat. Lower sodium. One-third fewer calories. Gluten-free. Low carbs. No sugar.

Fifty-percent less saturated fat. Lower sodium. One-third fewer calories. Gluten-free. Low carbs. No sugar. 

“Food-minus” products have been all the rage and have had a record-breaking rise in popularity in recent years. The food industry has made strides to be part of the solution by addressing rising concerns around obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and other public health issues that are linked to increased intakes of  sugar, fat, and sodium.  

Whether a response to consumer demand or from pressure by government, consumer, and public health advocates, the fact remains that these products have been a hit and people have been buying. We keep hearing the mantra to reduce fat, sugar, and sodium.

So, why all of a sudden is it not good enough? The first lady herself said it in her address to the food industry back in March: “We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering …”

On a population basis, isn't it good enough to make small changes since any little bit of reduction in the overall food supply could help in a huge way? The Institute of Medicine said in its April 2010 Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the US report that population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually.

Ultimately, it seems, reductions of certain nutrients in the food supply have got to help the population at large. But, eventually, we need to move from a population level to the individual.

Perhaps then, the next generation of “better-for-you” foods and beverages is for companies to offer “best-for-you” products that create a new value equation around the quality of the whole product. How does a company become the best-for-you meat and deli brand? Or the best-for-you ready-to-eat cereal brand?

Best-for-you value can be created with the quality of ingredients used, or by emphasizing real food quality or best-for-you nutrition. Perhaps there's a space for best-for-you indulgence products for consumers who are willing to pay a luxury tax. Best-for-you can have many meanings to different people but the idea is to reach consumers on an individual level with products that carry a value to the individual.

Susan Pitman is a partner at FoodMinds. 

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