A difficult diet to adhere to, eating raw is gaining more traction as an interim fix rather than as a long-term lifestyle. In recent years, raw food has gained popularity as progressive consumers continue to seek out pure, whole foods that promote healthy digestion and reconnect them to the earth. Raw eating tends to increase in summer months and in warmer climates, when and where raw eating is easier to accomplish. Additionally, many progressive consumers dip in and out of raw eating when tackling a specific health condition such as sinus congestion, digestive upset, eczema or weight loss. But do we see this trend going mainstream?
Raw eating promotes the consumption of uncooked, unprocessed or minimally processed, and often organic foods. A raw food diet consists of foods that have not been heated above certain temperatures, ranging from 92ºF to 118°F, so are primarily eaten fresh but can be dried using natural dehydration methods.
Raw Food Attributes
Ease of Adoption
Progressive health and wellness consumers look to a raw diet for optimal digestion, greater enzyme availability from the foods they eat and raising their consciousness. Beyond common gastric upset, consumers are evolving to understand digestion as the root source of all wellness, with inflammation reported as the single most important—and most frequent—chronic pathology to arise from poor digestive health.
In the case of inflammation, we find that consumers are seeking to regulate the digestive process itself by taking a holistic approach to health and eating, such as incorporating raw foods into their diet.
Increasingly, consumers are being deluged with expert opinion and information that links inflammation systemically to a host of other medical conditions beyond mere arthritis and joint pain. Much of the consumer language focuses on diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
So, let's look at consumers' understanding and language around "raw." The following map displays the typical language and thought patterns revealed in how consumers conceptualize and talk about about a raw diet. A basic strategy for reading a language map is to:
From this map, we can deduce that consumers view Raw Eating as being based on whole foods that are unprocessed, which leads to better digestion, due in part to live enzymes which impart more energy. While the flavor of raw foods is associated with fresh, vibrant and "connected to the earth," the ease of use requires additional skill and preparation time, as well as having costly, but essential tools to get started. Consumers are less inclined to view raw as associated with a brand but more about the ultimate freshness of the food.
Much like gluten-free (and what we saw with the here-today-gone-tomorrow low-carb diet), the raw food movement may not have long-term legs. As with other ascetic diets and strict eating habits, consumers shy away from lifestyle diets because they are too difficult to adhere to. Long term, following a predominantly raw food diet proves challenging given several factors:
"I eat about 80% raw foods and eat as cleanly as possible, because I believe this is the best way to fuel my body. … I also have a piece of Dove chocolate every day, because it tastes good.”
- Ben, Core Health and Wellness Consumer
Yet the idea of a raw or living foods diet continues to intrigue a variety of consumers, with raw food serving as an interim “detox” or “cleanse” rather than a long-term diet. As a form of culinary experimentation, classically trained chefs, such as Charlie Trotter in Chicago, are offering raw-food tasting menus to highlight the innate wholesomeness of fruits and vegetables, skillfully prepared by highly trained professionals.
Nutritional food bars using raw or dehydrated ingredients are leading the charge for CPGs. Brands such as Lärabar, Pure Bar and Raw Revolution provide convenient solace for consumers looking to incorporate raw foods into their diet, or the consumer simply looking for packaged snacks that appear less processed. A raw ingredient list or label callout is likely to inspire the latter consumer by cueing shorter shelf life and fresher ingredients. Two Moms in the Raw and Peeled Snacks, available at Starbucks, suggest that the venti latte drinker is looking for higher quality snacks and the notion of raw is merely symbolic of fresh and less processed. Beverages such as GT’s Kombucha make raw claims; however, it’s the fermented benefits that have consumers buying this fizzy elixir by the case. And, finally, there is an increase in raw chocolate on shelves as well. Fine & Raw Chocolate out of Brooklyn is sweetened with palm sugar, which isn’t exactly raw but is perceived as being healthier and less processed than standard white sugar. Labeling products as containing raw ingredients may boost sales in the short term, but cultured or fermented products are more likely to have long-term success in the marketplace.
The overarching trend stemming from raw is an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, particularly from local, seasonal, heirloom and organic origins. Foodservice/Retailers may consider adding more thoughtful vegetable selections prepared with a higher level of expertise, such as caramelized fennel or lemony beet slaw. Vegetable dishes should be a mix of raw and skillfully cooked, offering multiple options for consumers so they view you as a partner in eating well.
CPG companies should look to ingredients popularized by the raw food diet to include in new product development, while creating products that aren’t too fringe (e.g., coconut oil, fermented non-dairy beverages, sprouted seeds and nuts), but, overall we do not see a raw/living foods diet having long-term traction with mainstream consumers.
As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.