how to innovate for the health-conscious consumer in an indulgent category

By Aurore de Monclin

This week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Food Ingredients Webinar series for their Snacks and Deep Dive Day. At HMT, as leading global brand- builders in food and health, this triggered us to reflect on a typically indulgent category. How is it faring in today’s innovate-or-die environment and where are the opportunities?

The first stop in our journey to uncover the opportunities, as always in the consumer. In our latest gamechanger report we highlight mental well-bring as THE overarching trend in all categories. For consumers now more than ever, the aim is to feel good with a holistic view that their choices (of product, of sustainability habits) impact their mental well-being. From this shift in focus, we have seen several sub trends emerging: Positive Indulgence, Gut-Brain Axis, Self-Care, and Easing Eco-anxiety. But what do they all mean for the snacking category?

1.Positive Indulgence

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic created an environment where many determinants of poor mental well-being were exacerbated. With consumers recognizing the importance of their mental health, many turned to feel good experiences and feel-good foods which focus less on physical health, and more on emotional well-being. Consumers now want to treat themselves to healthy alternatives with good-for-you ingredients that allow them to indulge through rich flavor and mouthfeel, yet alleviate the guilt and peer-pressure associated with this indulgence. Brands that can also demonstrate their dedication to environmentally friendly practices and their ethical credentials are also being sought by consumers as a way of alleviating the weight of their choices and as a guide to making better ones.

2. Gut-Brain Axis

The emergent understanding that the connection between physical and mental health lies in the gut has meant that a new awareness of our microbiome is entering the consumer world. To add to that, we see a shift from ingredients that deliver a single benefit to those that have a synergistic effect. Consumers are looking for products that ‘deliver more,’ not just protein and fibre for example but also prebiotics and probiotics. As a result, there is an opportunity for healthy snacks that are “microbiome positive” and offer multiple health benefits such as good digestion, immunity support and cognitive health. And if your brand can deliver all these in an indulgent, guilt- free snacking format, this is the winner combination!

3. Self-Care

Taking care of oneself from the inside out is perceived as the most authentic self-care. The good mood food movement is the manifestation of that as being happy and joyful is the real sign of a successful life. This is being reflected in mindfulness activities such as meditation or in a new surge of foods targeting stress reduction, calming your brain or offering a support in mental sharpness.

4. Eco-Anxiety

Climate change is not only something that affects our planet. It is now also affecting our mental well-being. Dark media coverage about decreasing fish stocks, depleted soils and extreme weather are becoming a weight on many individuals’ shoulders (especially young people!). So they are becoming eager to turn these troubled thoughts into action. The problem is that many individuals are conflicted between wanting to do something but feeling that what little they manage to do is ineffective. Consumers have turned to brands that understand they must develop solutions that are easy to implement in their day to day life and make them feel accomplished.

Our key take away message

Consumers are constantly evolving, and they understand that their choices impact their mental well-being and that brands, as influencers, must be a force of good and provide them with indulgence, nutrition but also address big societal issues such as climate change. There are many areas in which to innovate, to make consumers comfortable with the pursuit of positive indulgence, the plunge into the gut-brain connection, the need for self-care and the easing of eco-anxiety. Which one will you select for your innovation pipeline will depend on your market and target consumer, as there is no one size fits all.

Before you go… one last piece of advice…

When it comes to snacking, I would say the good thing is that consumers are really open to innovation so it’s a great category to try new things.  Of course, you need to make it easy for them to understand why they should pick your product off the shelf. So, focusing on that ‘better experience’ is critical. Even though you may have fantastic food technology, you should consider it a support argument. Basically, put the consumers first and think how does the experience you are providing to them in their day make them feel?

If you need help to select the right trend for your snacking brand, identify the white spaces for innovation or position a new product, please contact me at for one-hour complimentary consultation!