The Keto Craze: Charting Growth and Identifying Keto Product Gaps

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As the ketogenic diet continues to grow in popularity, food and beverage makers have the opportunity to deliver keto products and keto label claims

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • The ketogenic diet was developed nearly 100 years ago, but only recently reached mainstream consumers.
  • By eating minimal carbohydrates and copious amounts of fat, protein and fibre, the body burns fat and, some studies suggest, experiences other health benefits, such as improved focus.
  • Keto-friendly ingredients include nut butters, MCT oil and grass-fed butter.   
  • A growing subset of keto consumers have adopted a flexible attitude toward the diet, with keto-ish books, articles and recipes becoming the norm.
  • Because few keto-branded products are on the market, keto consumers often buy items designed for and marketed to the paleo market.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Diets come and go. While Atkins, Dukan and South Beach are on the decline, the ketogenic diet, or “keto”, is gaining followers in the U.S. and other parts of the world, and there’s no telling how big the trend will become. Because of this growing global interest, food and beverage makers may want to consider creating keto products or adding keto label claims to existing products. Here’s a look at why consumers like keto, which keto product gaps exist in the market and why this 100-year-old specialty diet suddenly became mainstream.

The keto diet explained
Keto isn’t exactly an overnight sensation. It was created in the 1920s by a physician as a treatment for epilepsy in young children, and is still used today among this population. (Scientists suggest the keto diet is effective for this because it lowers brain inflammation.) Jeff Volek, RD, PhD, and Stephen Phinney, MD, PhD, have contributed significantly to the existing science of ketogenic diets and nutritional ketosis. Endorsements by self-appointed health gurus such as Dave Asprey, of the Bulletproof Diet, brought it into focus for today’s consumers by promoting the health benefits it can provide for everyone and by producing keto products.

Asprey’s wildly popular Bulletproof Coffee recipe blends coffee with high-quality grass-fed unsalted butter and coconut fat, a concoction he claims will give drinkers fast energy without the crash, since the fat slows caffeine absorption for more sustained energy. This offering highlights one major way keto differentiates itself from paleo: although both diets incorporate healthy fats, paleo purists take a more moderate approach to fat and cab intake and generally eschew dairy. Conversely, keto followers tend to take in fewer carbs and more fat, including full-fat, raw, whole and hormone-free varieties of some forms of dairy, including full fat cream, ghee and butter.

What are the other hallmarks of keto? In its purest form, the ketogenic diet advocates a person consume just 5% of their daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. However there are many variations in a sustainable ratio, depending on one's lean body mass. For instance, bodybuilders and men may need to consumer more protein on keto. By reducing or eliminating grains, sugar, starches and more, people fill their diet with what’s left—namely protein, fibre and fat. It’s the higher fat concentration that gives the diet its name: ketones are a brain-fueling energy source the body can craft from fat or glucose and ketosis is the metabolic state in which the body gets most of its energy from fat.

The keto attraction
While the term “diet” is still in regular use, consumers increasingly talk of eating patterns in terms of “lifestyle,” and cite goals beyond weight loss. Around the world, people are homing in on integrated, preventive approaches to wellbeing with many aiming to optimise their physical and mental powers through a balanced, realistic and sustainable approach to foods and beverages.

A growing body of studies (and many anecdotal claims) suggest that keto supplies some of these additional health and wellness benefits, aligning it with consumers' changing mindsets. Unlike other diets and lifestyles, the ketogenic diet claims to transform the operating system of the body. By cutting down on carbohydrates and sugars and taking in more fats, people experience the metabolic shift to ketosis. Because fat is a more slowly released energy source than glucose, proponents of the ketogenic diet often claim it provides increased mental clarity and energy.

In this era of personalised nutrition, consumers like that keto is marketed as a way of eating that helps you to better sense, understand and dictate how your body works. It also aligns with other health and wellness trends: namely the pursuit of organic, grass-fed, non-GMO, hormone-free and reduced sugar products.

Charting the growth of keto
Tracking internet searches is one way to predict trend growth and decline. According to Google analytics, in 2016, people researched diets including Atkins, the ketogenic diet, Whole 30, paleo-inspired diets such as the Wild Diet and mono diets that focus on eating a single food, such as a taco diet or pizza diet. Since then, interest in a majority of these has dwindled. However, search frequency for the ketogenic diet remains strong and is gaining, with Google showing a growth in the U.S. of +1011% between 2016 and 2018.

Right now, keto is the most popular it has ever been, and there is no indication it has reached the peak of its climb.

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Interest over time (definition): Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.

 

Businesses across multiple markets are responding to this trend. Mobile apps related to the ketogenic diet such as Carb Manager and KetoApp rank high among the list of most popular health and wellness apps. YouTube has numerous channels dedicated to the ketogenic diet. On Amazon.com, previews are available for dozens of ketogenic diet books due to be released in the coming months and year.

Not to be left behind, the food and beverage industry is steadily launching new food and drink products targeting ketogenic dieters. Some of the most popular products to hit the market include MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil, almond butter in to-go pouches and nutritional beverages and bone broth with keto-specific packaging and claims.

Because the ketogenic diet encourages eating animal products from grass-fed animals, one core ketogenic staple is grass-fed butter. In the U.S., the overall “grass-fed” claim in retail grew by 23% in 2018 when compared to 2017 while grass-fed butter saw a 45% rise during the same period, according to Nielsen. (Of note: The same period showed a growth of 5.4% for the overall butter category, which is higher than the previous period’s 2% growth.) Similar trends are present in organic meat products and hormone-free eggs.

Hello Fresh, the largest meal kit delivery service in the U.S., which acquired the all-organic line Green Chef in March 2018, noticed the trend and now offers keto-friendly meal kits. Factor75, another meal kit service, has begun to offer the same, and many others will likely follow suit.

On social media, consumers are sharing how to order keto at Starbucks (usually by replacing milk with heavy cream and asking for sugar-free syrups) and how to follow keto at foodservice locations such as Chipotle, Taco Bell, McDonald's and more. They’re also noting which restaurants are most keto-friendly, commonly citing establishments with the most customizable menus, such as Panera Bread.

Customising keto for flexibility, convenience and indulgence
One way the keto consumer is set apart from other, more traditional dieters is the acceptance of following a keto-ish plan, rather than being bound to strict rules and elaborate eating plans. Blog posts and book titles celebrate the idea of "cheating" while on keto or following a keto-inspired or “almost-keto” eating plan.

This flexibility in the interpretation of keto spells opportunity for the food and beverage industry. The latest release of keto-focused books, many of which focus on convenience and indulgence, allow readers to create custom plans that feel more like a lifestyle than a diet. Many are built around ketogenic indulgence, including keto dessert cookbooks and recipes for keto-ish craft cocktails and smoothies. There’s also a surge in keto books and online articles that showcase simple recipes, such as those that can be prepared in a single pot or sheet pan or with just a handful of ingredients.

The appearance of these DIY recipes indicates that keto consumers are ready and willing to take their eating plans into their own hands. But, it also suggests that there’s a gap in the market for these consumers—that they may be making their own keto meals and indulgent desserts and cocktails because they’re unable to identify which grocery and restaurant products align with the keto lifestyle.

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Producing keto products
While consumers may follow a keto-ish diet, they seek purely keto products on the market. (After all, they can easily create a keto-ish meal at home, since the definition is quite broad.) Recent and/or successful keto-branded products to hit the market include low-carb and high-fat keto ice cream, keto bread, keto nutrition shakes, keto grass-fed bone broth, keto coffee creamers, keto snack bars and keto chocolate barks.

Until this category expands, many keto-followers are shopping for paleo-branded products, which often have closely aligned nutrition and are currently more plentiful on the market. Paleo products can be found in almost every category, from breads and crackers to ice cream, and it will be interesting to see if any of these products are rebranded or cross-branded with keto claims. Manufacturers considering this will need to keep in mind net carbs: Keto followers are conscious of net carbs listed on nutrition label, and generally limit these more than paleo followers. Therefore, having “zero carbs” or “low net carbs” on the front of your food and beverage package could incite sales.

Whether branded as keto or not, some products and categories have already been deemed keto staples, such as grass-fed butter, almond flour, cacao nibs, pork rinds, various nuts and seeds, coconut chips and MCT oil. If you sell one of these products or produce a food or beverage that includes one of these ingredients, callouts on packaging or menu descriptions could help catch the attention of keto consumers. So could keto-friendly claims such as “organic”, “grass-fed”, “non-GMO”, “hormone-free” and “reduced sugar”.

The nutrition of keto-friendly products is also important to consider. People following the keto diet are eliminating carbohydrate-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and many vegetables from their diets. This means keto-friendly foods should help these consumers fill nutrition gaps by providing added nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, vitamins A and C and potassium.

A recent inquiry into Google search data found that the below terms are trending among consumers in the U.S. Marketers deciding which category to develop next may want to consider these areas, which appear to represent gaps in the keto product market.

Popular search terms, which illuminate keto market gaps:

  • keto breakfast ideas
  • keto dinner ideas
  • keto ready-made dinner boxes (important because recent launches have been critcised for being too high in carbs, with keto consumers aiming to take in 20 to 25 grams or fewer each day)
  • keto fat bombs (opportunities in snacks, the next snack bar)
  • keto chocolate chip cookies
  • keto coffee
  • keto bread recipe
  • keto bread
  • keto brownies
  • keto ice cream
Because of the trend toward always-on consumers, products that supply on-the-go portions may also be in demand.

To learn more about our consumer insights on the keto market, or to discuss ways your products can be reformulated to appeal to the keto consumer, contact Kerry.

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