A series of simple food images with organic ingredients and healthy dishes, diet trends
Consumer Insights
February 15, 2017

True Diet Trends vs. Fleeting Food Fads

In light of America’s mounting concern over obesity, our desire to eat better has kept the Food & Beverage industry on its toes with a plethora of diet trends. The fact is, most consumers remain divided over what “healthy eating” means. Low carb snacks, vegan burgers and gluten free bread loaves line our supermarket shelves as just a few of the diet trends dominating the market, meanwhile consumers sway relentlessly between an abundance of diet choices.

Here’s how to distinguish between veritable food trends that are here to stay, and the latest diet trend or fad that will likely fade into obscurity after garnering a lot of hype.

1) Steady Risers

The holy grails of legitimate food trends are the “steady risers”— movements that have grown gradually in awareness and market share over many years to prove they are more than just another one of those diet trends off the street.

A popular example of this is the organic food movement, with origins rooted in the early environmental movement of the 1940’s. On top of being one of the longest standing movements, interest in organic eating continues to gain steam every year. Hitwise found that searches for organic food terms increased a colossal 224% over the last three years, from 2014 through the end of 2016.

The gluten free movement arrived later on the scene, but also demonstrates all the hallmarks of a “steady riser” diet trend. In spite of a few minor blips, searches for gluten free terms have risen steadily year-over-year:

Gluten Free Graph Eat Diet Trends Article

2) Cyclical

A modest 45% over the last three years, but this represents significantly less growth than their “steady riser” counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, searches for detox terms tend to spike in the beginning of the year, as consumers seek to purge themselves of their gluttonous holiday consumption habits. After soaring in January, however, detox searches tend to wane steadily until the following year.

Detox Searches, Diet Trends

*Note: The only exception in this cyclical rhythm is the spike in July of 2014, which can be attributed to a sudden interest in the detoxification properties Niacin after the release of two major studies in the New England Journal of Medicine.

3) “So Last Year” Diet Trends

As you’d expect, “so last year” diet trends hit their peak… in 2016. Since then, they’ve either flattened out or waned steadily.

Interestingly, more than one diet in this category is focused on “lowering” consumption of unhealthy ingredients — as in, “Low Sugar” or “Low Carb.”

As you can see below, Low Sugar diet searches have certainly increased in the past several years — but the bulk of this rise in popularity occurred abruptly in the beginning of 2016. Since then interest has essentially flat lined:

Low Sugar, Diet Trends

Meanwhile, Low Carb searches enjoyed an even more dramatic rise in the beginning of 2016, followed by a slow, steady decline over the last year. That being said, since 2014 low carb searches have still increased by a sizable 223%.

Low Carb, Diet Trends

Mirroring the above data, searches for Paleo showed a meteoric jump in 2016, but have dissipated since. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Paleo diet trend is dead—but serves as a reminder that fast-rising food fads carry the risk of falling out of favor quickly.

Paleo, Diet Trends

4) Today’s Rising Stars

Moving into the new year, several diet trends have shown a sudden upswing in promise—and many of them relate to how we consume animal products.

Vegan searches have been steadily climbing since 2014, and in the end of October jumped suddenly into the league of “rising stars” by doubling in volume. This abrupt interest in veganism is quite startling, considering veganism has existed for decades.

Vegan, Diet Trends

Interestingly, vegetarian searches experienced a very similar dramatic entrance into the league of rising stars near the end of 2016. Searches around vegetarianism have grown gradually over the years, but they more than doubled in the last several months.

Vegetarian, Diet Trends

This sudden renewed interest in vegetarianism and veganism, along with the persistent demand for organic foods, suggests consumers are more invested in sustainable food movements that improve their own health while protecting the planet and other organisms.

Meanwhile, consumers are curious — yet increasingly wary — about the latest diet fads. As our national desire to eat better continues to expand, it is imperative that food brands and consumer packaged goods companies are able to distinguish between authentic food trends and “here today, gone tomorrow” diet fads.

The data cited above came from Hitwise’s AudienceView tool. Combining search, clickstream and behavioral data with audience and attitudinal data, Hitwise can provide powerful insight into customer and industry trends, and allow you to drive more high-value traffic. To learn more about Hitwise or get a free demo, contact us here.