Indulgent vs health food trends in 2023

burger and chips

Today’s consumer has more considerations than ever before when weighing up which products to buy. From plant-based meals to the rise of nutraceuticals, no concern is more apparent than health.

Yet on the flipside, indulgent and calorific treats hold a place in consumers’ hearts now more than ever, tapping into that ‘I deserve it’ messaging and providing a quick – and often extremely affordable – endorphin rush.

For whether a diner is weighing up whether to choose the healthy option or splurge on calories, an overarching consideration right now is always cost. The cost-of-living crisis currently permeates all purchase-making decisions, impacting every choice of health vs indulgence.

We take a look at some of the key consumer considerations and how you can tap into them in 2023.


Health beyond calories
Once upon a time ‘healthy eating’ was all about food that was lower calorie, lower fat, and lower sugar. Today, clued-up consumers seek to solve many different health goals, from boosting mood to supporting gut health. They’re seeking out not just sugar-free foods, but also actively avoiding artificial sweeteners too, opting instead for naturally sweetened foods. From maple syrup to monk fruit, coconut sugar to fruit juice concentrate, the world of natural sweeteners has opened wide up, with uses extending beyond sweet treats to marinades, sauces and more.

Hidden fruits and vegetables
No longer just a technique for getting kids to eat their greens, brands are now incorporating vegetables, legumes and fruits into foods where they are not usually found, boosting their health claims without substantially altering the eating experience. Think pasta made with edamame beans, pre-packaged meat sausages, mince and meatballs made with 30% veggies, or malt loaves incorporating beetroot.


The bright lights of US brands
While consumers remain loyal to their favourite QSR brands, in recent years the UK audience has also welcomed the openings of Wendy’s, DUNKIN, Taco Bell, Five Guys, Wingstop, Shake Shack and now the latest addition to the UK market: Popeyes. Despite launching to a demographic who may never have tried these brands before, thanks to the permeation of American culture through social media and TV, these restaurants already have a high awareness among their target market, and an American allure to which the opening day queues outside UK Popeyes can attest.

Indulging in nostalgia
Just as we saw people turning to comfort food like fried chicken during lockdown, the uncertainty caused by the cost-of-living crisis is seeing consumers find comfort indulging in nostalgic foods; retro foods that remind us of our childhoods and take us back to more care-free times. While retro Halloween buckets and Happy Meals saw huge popularity stateside, in the UK ‘oven tea’ favourites like fish fingers plus nostalgic sweetshop and school dinner classics are hitting the spot.


Plant-based fast food
For many, health is bundled up with the idea of reducing meat or processed meat consumption. As plant-based meat alternatives become increasingly affordable and accessible, consumers can choose a meat-free option from the likes of McDonalds, Burger King and KFC that gives an incredibly similar experience to the ‘real deal’, offering what is often a healthier option for the same indulgent fast-food experience.

Trading both up and down
Whilst we’re undeniably a time of belt tightening, grocers such as Tesco have reported interesting findings. As you might expect, many consumers are levelling down a brand when doing their food shop – shifting from branded to own brand, or own-brand to value brand. But this by no means spells the end for ‘Finest’ and ‘best’ ranges. What we’re seeing is that these more indulgent ranges have become a levelling down from a takeaway or a meal out. Shoppers who might normally baulk at a £5 pizza will see it as a great deal when it’s in place of a £15 takeaway – a ‘treat’ experience, whilst watching the pennies.
Choose your business model

It’s clear that agile brands can find success meeting the needs of either the ‘healthy’ or ‘indulgence market’. As a third possibility, whether through ingenious products or a diverse product offering, they can even serve the needs of both. Whether you’re looking to up the indulgence of a product in your portfolio or boost your health claims to tap into a different type of consumer, Bowman Ingredients can create the bespoke coatings to give your product the edge.

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