chaz1One welcome side effect of increased consumer awareness and understanding of healthier eating and drinking habits in the UK is the continuing growth in sales of ‘Light’ products, or the Lite Stuff, for short.

Shoppers wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle have no shortage of food and drink products offering ‘Low/No’ alternatives, in terms of reduced contents of fat, salt, sugar, alcohol and so on.

The Lite Stuff heading also covers ‘Free from’ alternatives, which help people with health and medical concerns avoid particular ingredients. These are enjoying better availability in supermarkets, but in many retailers still languish in a ghetto somewhere around aisle 28. Organic and Fairtrade products are now offered as another consumer choice in many grocery categories, so why not Free From too? Our opinion piece in this feature widens the debate.

As a nation we’re doing some heavy spending on the Lite Stuff. Mintel confirm low fat and low calorie foods directly benefiting from media attention focused on the links between diet and health, and the flood of government information and guidelines. Dieting was traditionally something women and girls did: recent evidence suggests that these days, men and children also have greater awareness of diet-related health issues.

The food sector has embraced the shift in emphasis to a positive image of healthy living and a move towards low fat, away from calorie counting. For many consumers, less fat equates with health, whereas ‘lower calorie’ equates with diet.

Mintel say a further reason behind this shift is that many groups no longer see dieting as healthy. Associations with anorexia nervosa and bulimia have contributed, together with press reports and books claiming ‘dieting makes you fat’. Consumers are being encouraged to think in terms of general health rather than short term weight loss options – all good for forming healthy eating and drinking habits.

That said, while health is an important factor in the current market, most consumers will continue to make their initial purchase on the basis of taste. In the late 1990s, rising PDI has meant that consumers are less concerned about the cost of food and more interested in other factors such as quality and flavour. Low fat and low calorie options are compared directly with their full fat alternatives and consumer expectations are that buying the healthier option will not mean an unacceptable compromise on quality.

Most parents, given the choice, would prefer their families to eat more healthily, and research indicates that women take an active role in ensuring their partners eat more healthily. However, if products are unpopular, repeat purchase is unlikely, however ‘righteous’ they might be. Taste is still vital.

The Grocery Trader

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