It is our great pleasure to provide a place on the internet for other authors and bloggers to share their thoughts on food, diet and psychology.
In this first part of a two-part series, Martha Norris of Simply Martha explores how food trends affect our health. Trends become ‘trendy’ as the psychology of society and belonging is a massively powerful factor. Understanding these issues in the broader context of the psychology of weight loss gives us more power to our elbow.
Thank you, Martha.
Food is an important part of living a sustainable life. It enables us to survive, engage socially and experience enjoyment through the foods we eat as part of our global cultures. This paper will discuss a balanced view on the current food trends and how past and future trends could impact the health of the population in either a positive or negative way. Current food / diet trends over the last 10 years have included; ‘free from’ foods, vegan, gluten free and even avocados (Mintel, 2017).
Supermarkets, branding and food trends have a big influence on consumers, which, depending on food trends, could impact our health accordingly (Chen, 2014). Obesity worldwide has tripled since 1975; 650 million adults were obese and 41 million under 5 year olds were overweight or obese in 2016 (World Health Organisation, 2017). This shows that globally many of the foods we eat lead us towards obesity; although the World Health Organisation (WHO) report does not show if specific food trends either help reduce or increase this aspect of ill-health. Another worrying trend reported was that in 2014 only 26% of adults in the UK ate the recommended 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetable with 52% of 15 year olds eating what is recommended (National Statistics, 2017). Supermarkets have traditionally been a ‘sell on demand’ business therefore they supply what consumers want to purchase, so it could be argued therefore that consumers dictate the nation’s health and purchasing choices (Chen, 2014).
Meat food trends and changes in attitudes
Food prices over recent years have risen over 40% and are set to continue with a further 30% increase predicted over the next 10 years globally (Anríquez et al., 2013). These rises are often in particular areas of agriculture, meat and fish farms where producers raise their prices to consumers in order to maintain their incomes. Interestingly though, perhaps in part because the meat industry’s prices have increased, Britons are cutting their regular meat intake by 28% (Mintel, 2017) and 14% of Britons aim to reduce their overall meat consumption. Despite the drop in meat price the reduction in meat intake shows that more vegetarian or vegan diets are being adopted which can include the use of meat substitutes. A study looking into the links between meat eaters and reduced meat eaters (Quorn or tofu) (Adostolioldis, 2016), showed that consumers often eat meat substitutes as they believe it would be a healthy alternative to meat.
Overall meat consumption has decreased over recent years (Mintel, 2017) which is helping the global diets of many populations to convert from a mainly meat eating culture to a plant based diet (Jallinoji et al., 2016), the meat industry is becoming more unsustainable with prices getting higher and meat farming and the number of animals decreasing (Jallinoji et al., 2016). However, it is not just the cost that is causing trends. In Belgium, a study conducted between vegetarians and meat eaters showed that the subjects were more inclined to change to a plant based and reduced meat diet which would contribute towards better health (Mullee et al., 2017). Implementing a plant based, reduced meat diet could improve areas of climate change, land use, pollution and reduce the numbers of animals slaughtered for meat (PETA, 2017). The balanced side of this food trend is that although plant based substitutes can lead to the reduction of some cancers (Mullee et al., 2017) meat does provide essential micronutrients that non- meat products do not provide such as iron, vitamin A, folic acid and B12 (Biesalski, 2005) as well as having a low glycaemic index which can be beneficial to overweight or diabetes prone individuals (Biesalski, 2005). This food trend (meat reduction or substitution) has a balanced impact on consumers both ethically and physically.
Social media and food choices
Adults in the last decade are more influenced by social media as this is now an important part of how it effects multiple aspects their daily lives, including food choices (Vaterlaus et al., 2015). Consumers are now more engaged with food products and health over the last 50 years, especially in industrialised countries (Asioli et al., 2017). A common food trend is the #eatclean trend, which brands certain foods as ‘unhealthy’ compared to others as ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ (Asioli et al., 2017). Although this social media campaign has helped to introduce new foods that have more nutritional value than others, the promotion of this trend coming from unqualified health professionals, makes the trend, and the diets it promotes, concerning as, particularly with a younger audience, the messages can be misinterpreted and become extreme (through self-directed weight loss or eating disorders) (Vaterlaus et al., 2015). This trend has identified factors of consumers’ choices through the sales of food categories that are associated with being healthier such as ‘free from’, organic and natural foods (Asioji et al., 2017). This trend also makes strong reference to the socio- cultural factors of clean eating and having the ‘right’ image, particularly through its online presence (Asioji et al., 2017).
Twitter in particular has been seen as a platform that has influenced activities related to food and health (Chen and Yang, 2014). The conclusion of the research by Chen and Yang found that the healthful food environment facilitates an individual’s exposure to a variety of different health foods they may not notice in supermarkets and individuals are also less likely to utilise fast food restaurants (Chen and Yang, 2014). Another study looked at the average amount of tweets that circulated twitter that were associated with food (Nguyen et al., 2017). Tweets that were positive and about healthy food accounted for 44% of tweets which is a clear indication that society enjoys sharing their thoughts on healthy foods which has positive connotations for the role of social media (Nguygen et al., 2017); although the reliability from using social media is questionable as there isn’t always a clear indication of the intention of someone’s tweets (Nguyen et al., 2017). Apart from the food, individuals buying patterns and how they feel about it, social media has also influenced consumers on the source of food, as social media has been linked with promoting agro-food and making consumers more aware of buying sustainable food sources (Stevens et al., 2016). Issues such as GMO (generic modified organisms), food safety and animal welfare now predominate on social media which helps raise awareness of issues that do not get the attention from mainstream news articles (Stevens et al., 2016).
Following the food trends of customers: Loyalty cards
Earlier it was mentioned that supermarkets have traditionally been a ‘sell on demand’ business therefore they supply what consumers want to purchase, so it could be argued therefore that consumers dictate the nation’s health and purchasing choices (Chen, 2014).
However the introduction of loyalty cards has complicated that simplistic view. Loyalty cards were first introduced in the 1990s to encourage customers by offering rewards for staying with a particular supermarket. This would help the customer get deals on cheaper food and in return supermarkets would be able to track the specific products consumers buy and therefore they could upsell and buy more stock of foods that were bought more frequently. (Erbschloe, 2017). The ‘Spa’ brand in 46 countries saw that by using loyalty cards the shopping habits of costumers for vegan, gluten free, dairy free and wheat free were on the rise, and as a result sold more products that fit this trend and even developed standalone supermarkets catering for these health- conscious customers (Mintel, 2017). Loyalty cards work by using the data from tracking what customers buy and then enticing them with deals on the repeated items to make them want to keep buying. However, for the consumers that regularly buy unhealthier items for example biscuits, cakes and chocolate, they will be less likely to buy healthier food because the customer won’t be a targeted audience for healthier foods (Bazargan, Karray and Zolfaghari, 2017). Therefore, the concept of making you want to buy what you already buy only maintains an unhealthy diet in those customers who choose unhealthy products (Erbschloe, 2017). For consumers, loyalty cards create individual food trends rather than the mass collection of consumer data which encourages certain foods to be sold for example avocados (Erbschloe, 2017). However, the whole issue of data analytics means that it is questionable to say that supermarkets are simply a ‘sell on demand’ business.
- Worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975
- Social media is influencing new food trends
- Food trends are many and varied
- Supermarkets do more than ‘sell on demand’
Martha Norris shares further information on food trends and how they affect us, our choices, our health and our weight.