Consumer trends in food and drink used to be about revering Nature; now it’s about improving on it.

Since the introduction of stringent labelling laws which reveal the contents of every processed and packaged item of food – along with nutritional composition – consumers have taken more interest in what goes into products. Experts have long shared the sound advice that if you can’t understand or pronounce an ingredient on the label, you probably shouldn’t buy it (quinoa might be an exception). People have taken this to heart and food manufacturers have had to go back to basics, stripping out additives and preservatives across a whole range of products. We call this trend ‘Exclude’.

While this might sound like old news, it is important to know how we got to where we are today. Back then, additives were the enemy. Now, a new target has emerged: components and nutrients that may occur naturally in food and drink. Gluten is the poster child for this trend, evidenced by an explosion of products and Free-From shelf space in supermarkets. Dairy, too, is under fire.  Both gluten and lactose have been culled from everyday products in a bid to appeal to the health conscious just as much as the intolerant.

Spirits giant Diageo has dabbled in the dairy-free movement and introduced an almond milk Baileys Irish Cream. Other companies such as Bodegas Torres and Big Drop Brewing Company have gone as far to remove alcohol from their wine and beers to create alternatives with as many of the hallmark characteristics and flavours as can be retained without alcohol.

At the same time, almost paradoxically, consumers have embraced a new generation of additives which enhance products and add an extra dimension of value (whether perceived or actual). They have drawn a fine distinction between good additives and bad additives: protein good, sugar bad.

For example, in Japan, Fanta released a Watermelon & Salt flavour; the combination of water, sugar and salt helps combat the effects of heatstroke. Mars and Snickers both released gym snacks which pack in 18g of added protein, and Coco Libre have launched their own line of coconut water with 15g of milk protein. Anti-aGin, a gin distilled with pure collagen and anti-ageing botanicals, takes the trend to the extreme. This trend has touched categories as diverse as beverages, confectionary and even eggs which claim to have more omega-3.

Both trends are examples of a much larger trend of Well-Being. People are more preoccupied with making healthy choices, whether that involves having less of the bad stuff or more of the good. Exclude and Enhance are about cultivating a healthy body, while Mindfulness does the same for mental Well-Being.

Technology has played a large role in the diffusion of mindfulness with apps like Headspace and Calm taking the iTunes app store by storm. In the real world, Innocent led the Unplugged Festival, an “off-the-grid” festival where people can escape their busy lives, leave their phones behind and enjoy a few days disconnected. The Nap Lounge in Hong Kong employs the same phone-free policy but with a few added extras: here you can rent a private room for a couple of hours of rest in the middle of the work day to unwind and relax.

It remains to be seen what other products and services will emerge in a bid to satisfy consumer’s drive for holistic Well-Being. Perhaps Huel, a vegan powdered meal replacement which boasts that it provides all the proteins, carbs and fats you need plus all 26 essential vitamins and minerals, is the apogee of the trend: all the good with none of the bad.

Author: James Wainscott