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How will brands cater to the rise of foodie-fitness trends?

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2017 has seen a significant rise in sales for health foods such as avocados.

By name and by nature, food is a cornerstone of our culture. Team lunch is more than a daily occurrence to refuel. It’s pleasure and nourishment, it’s about sharing, experimentation and most importantly, taking a break from our desks to feed the body and mind. And we’re not alone in our respect of food.

'Mindful eating' is just one example of the impressive rise of foodie-fitness trends engulfing society. Wherever we look, the latest raw recipes and flexitarian alternatives are flooding our news feeds. At the beginning of the year, figures from IRI reported a whopping rise in sales for popular health foods including avocados, almond milk, coconut water and smoothies. Astonishingly, we Brits spent a total of £62m on almond milk (up 32% on 2015) and £187m on avocados in 2016.

There’s a significant shift in thinking and consumer demand shows we’re considering our diet more seriously, and with heightened enthusiasm. Food brands are also taking note, with healthier messaging leading large-scale ad campaigns and sponsored content dominating lifestyle magazines. Many credit this trend to the influence of fitness gurus, bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers who are inspiring consumers (particularly young consumers) to strive for a healthier lifestyle.

But this health focus runs deeper than bandwagon leaping onto the latest juice diet. Consumers are also thinking more consciously about the wider context of food, giving consideration to environmental and animal welfare issues. According to new figures from the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has risen 350% in the past ten years, with 42% aged 15 - 34. The popularity of well-produced health documentaries (many from Netflix) and consumer-led social content are thought to be the driving force.

And we’re experiencing the trends close to home. In a team of 19, we are vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and no-sugar-eaters at lunchtime. As a result, our interest in how brands are engaging with this challenge has grown. Wagamama launched their vegan menu in October and Pizza Express turned heads back in June when they introduced vegan cheese. There are also reports that Nandos and McDonald's will also be trialing plant-based additions in UK. Pret A Manger has experienced great success as one of the first to embrace vegan and vegetarian options, engaging consumers as ‘consultants’ in the process. Pret supported their menu expansion with a large ad campaign and the launch of dedicated veggie pop-up in Soho.

But how will other restaurants follow suit? Will they cater for this demand in a way that feels genuine and maintains brand authenticity? And particularly for meat-centred fast food chains, how will they maintain their connection with customers who know and love them for their carnivore offering? For the latter, a balance of enthusiasm and sensitivity is required. Campaigns (however large or small) should be a celebration of variety and inclusion.

Some may choose to focus on responsibility but should be cautious not to simply pay lip-service. The introduction of free-from-type product ranges should be treated as an extension and a maturing of the product range, not a bolt-on.

We’ll be heading to Food Matters Live at the Excel from 21 – 23 November to hear about the latest insights and successful case studies at the forefront of the food futures movement. We hope to meet some like-minded foodie businesses there.

Annie Hall is strategic planner at Salad.