Bridging the Gap Between What Consumers Want and What’s Possible
The nutrition landscape has never been more exciting – or complex. The way that consumers define nutrition is ever-changing. As they look for new and different benefits from the food they eat, their voices are growing louder as they demand more from food brands. How they eat has changed, too, as the lines between meals and snacks are blurring. An increasing number of consumers are replacing meals with snacks: According to a 2014 Nielsen report, 41 percent of Americans had eaten snacks instead of dinner at least once in the previous 30 days. That being the case, consumers want – and need – their snacks to deliver more.
Consumers are overwhelmed, however, by the fads and trends that constantly pop up in the media and in the grocery store. Many are unsure of what information is true and what is actually right for them. From low-fat and low-carb to gluten-free and paleo, it’s no wonder they aren’t always confident in their food choices. And in our fast-paced, always on-the-go society, consumers don’t necessarily have the time to keep up with – or even understand – the latest consumer trends, let alone put them into practice by preparing a meal or snack themselves.
This is where the crucial role of a dietitian working with brands comes into play. We can help our companies – and the brands within – bridge the gap between the consumer’s desires and what’s actually possible to put on shelves. Brands need insights from dietitians to translate nutrition science into product recommendations.
As a registered dietitian for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, I'm passionate about making it easier for people to make choices that work for their lifestyles and wellness goals. Health professionals and brands can work together to make it easier, not more difficult, for people to access nutrition with snacks that work within a balanced diet, even on the go.
Consumers increasingly want the benefits of the fresh food often found in the grocery store perimeter with the convenience and ease of the center of the store. Dietitians working with food companies are the voices that advocate for positive change, innovation and renovation in products by helping find solutions that reduce “negatives,” like saturated fat and sodium, and increase “positives,” like whole grains and vegetables. We can help food companies understand the impact of updated dietary guidelines as well as assist with appropriately communicating where ingredients come from and how products are made, a key current consumer trend.
Food companies like PepsiCo want and need our insights and expertise to help provide more mindful options in the snack aisle. Companies are responding by providing options that increase nutrient density and transparency. While there are many great boutique brands out there, accessibility is an important factor to options that meet consumer needs, and there are benefits to size and scale. When I share my expertise to help transform Frito-Lay’s products, the impact is felt across the country.
As the true nutrition experts, dietitians have a very important role to play not just when it comes to educating both employees and consumers, but also in helping to ensure products align with dietary guidelines and are eaten in portions that allow for balance and moderation. After all, recommendations that are too idealistic and don’t fit into our busy lives get ignored. We need to provide options that are practical – center-of-the-store options that can sit in a purse or backpack all day while still providing positive nutrition.
While I also want to encourage people to enjoy more positive nutrition in their snacks, it’s also important to help consumers understand that any snack – when consumed in moderation – can have a place in an overall balanced diet. A diet without occasional treats isn’t sustainable or realistic (or fun!). It’s important for brands to increase the nutrient density of snack offerings, but it’s also important for registered dietitians to help consumers determine how what they eat fits into an overall balanced meal plan. We can help both consumers and brands find the balance between what they want and what’s truly possible.