Purchasing diet sodas, Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine and 100-calorie snacks was the norm for people watching their weight for decades. But the sales of diet products are declining. No, it is not a reflection of obesity increasing in America. Rather, it is a reflection that buyers who do watch what they eat are looking at more than calorie counts when purchasing food because the available low-calorie foods are not satisfying.
The calorie counting that has traditionally defined dieting is giving way to other considerations, like what is in the food and how it is made. Many weight-watching staples cut calories from foods and drinks with artificial sweeteners, smaller portions, and less taste. But, consumers want more natural ingredients and fiber and are using their purse strings to dictate their desires. The change in purchasing patterns has food manufacturers taking action and introducing new options.
It is not that people who are watching their weight do not care about calories anymore. It is just that they are sick of foods that are not satisfying and leave them hungrier. The trend seems to be heading towards eating meals with more protein or fat that will help dieters avoid eating again later, even if those foods are higher in calories.
People are recognizing that just going on a diet to lose weight is not enough without considering nutrition, according to Margo Wootan, who is director of nutrition policy at The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is a health advocacy group.
Brands Trying to Win Back Customers
Here are some of the diet brands and low-calorie foods that buyers are steering away from because they are not satisfying. Also, here are ways the companies involved are responding with new products:
- Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine product line has experienced a 27 percent drop in sales in the past four years. Last year, the company introduced an “Honestly Good” line that boasts 100 percent natural ingredients and zero preservatives. They have larger portions with about 390 calories per box, rather than the 300 calories typical for Lean Cuisine meals. However, they also cost a lot more.
- Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi both had a nearly 7 percent drop in sales last year. The desire by consumers to move away from artificial sweeteners is cited as the cause for the decline by executives at both companies. They are now developing new drinks that use sweeteners that are both natural and low in calories.
- Special K cereal’s sales have dropped 7 percent in the past two years. In response, Kellogg has introduced “Special K Nourish,” hot cereals that include grains like barley and quinoa.
- Weight Watchers updated its “Points” diet methodology in 2010 to include the protein content of food. Now, they introduced a “Simple Start” option that involves no measuring and no counting. Simply eat as much as desired from the list of “power foods.”
- Lastly, many of those 100-calorie snacks that flooded the market are gone because of steep sales declines. For example, sales of Oreos in 100-calories packs plummeted 72 percent over the past four years. So, parent company Mondelez International Inc., which offered many types of 100-calorie snacks has pruned its lineup and now offers only four 100-calorie snack products. Likewise, Frito-Lay made its last shipment of 100-calorie Cheetos and Doritos packages last year. Their new “ready-to-go” packs may only have about 100 calories, but that is no longer featured on the packages.
It remains to be seen if the manufacturers will be successful at encouraging customers to return. If not, they need to go back to the drawing board and come up with other packaged foods and drinks that are low calorie and satisfying to buyers.
By Dyanne Weiss