As reported in The New York Times in April, Kent State and Cornell University launched the first certified gluten-free dining halls in the US, catering not only to students with celiac disease or similar disorders, but also to those who have simply chosen to live gluten-free lifestyles.

This decision to offer more inclusive dining options is reflective of the strong momentum behind Mintel Trend “Bannedwagon,” which explores the focus on labels, ingredients and production methods as people embrace once-niche ways of living and eating. Consumers are seeking less processed food in general and, more specifically, free-from diets that formerly were adopted for physical or spiritual reasons are now abound because many consumers view them as healthier.

3 in 10 consumers say they would pay more for non-GMO dishes

GMO-free, antibiotic-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, Halal and Kosher are just a few of the claims that have become more widely accepted, and in some cases consumers would actually shell out more of their hard-earned cash for them. Mintel’s Healthy Dining Trends US 2016 report shows that three in 10 consumers say they would pay more for non-GMO dishes.

Over the past couple years, there has been no shortage of announcements from major food, drink and foodservice brands pledging to remove certain additives or chemicals. Today, we continue to see companies innovating around new product lines or altering existing ones to meet this expectation:

  • US-based Beyond Meat recently launched a plant-based burger that looks, cooks and tastes like a fresh beef burger, including beet juice that resembles blood.
  • In Brazil, popular traditional cheese brand Polenghi has launched a lactose-free range.

As this expectation permeates society, consumers looking for ‘natural’ have been able to find it in other realms, such as household care, beauty and personal care, and within the pet care space:

  • Denver’s Apollo Peak has launched an all-natural, organic, non-alcoholic wine for cats. It comes in two varieties made from all-natural beets and organic catnip: Pinot Meow and MosCATo.
  • GourPet claims to be Chile’s first brand of natural, homemade, Paleo-friendly pet food. The diet boasts maximizing health and longevity while reducing allergies and vet bills.

All of this is great for consumers who know what they want and what to look for, but for many, it can be dizzying trying to discern between what’s healthy and what’s not. Governmental and third-party organizations may help clear this up, but ahead of more regulation and standardization, companies would be wise to use labeling and communications that make Bannedwagon-type claims more transparent, meaningful and trustworthy. More advantageous brands can take this a step further to provide exceptional guidance or innovative tools:

  • Dan Lubetzky, CEO of KIND, has created Feed the Truth, an advocacy organization dedicated to improving information concerning “healthy” foods and ingredients.
  • The Nima, created in San Francisco, is a pocket-sized gadget that detects gluten in foods in under two minutes.

As consumers continue to do their own research into the goods they buy, this trend underscores the importance for brands to continually do research of their own, by way of monitoring consumer concern. According to Mintel’s Gluten-free Foods US 2016 report, two in five consumers say gluten-free products are beneficial for everyone – not only those with a gluten allergy/intolerance/sensitivity – indicating Kent State and Cornell’s gluten-free dining halls are a good move. However, nearly half of consumers also say gluten-free diets are a fad. While this doesn’t mean brands (or universities) should ignore the craze, they should keep a pulse on the consumer perception of “healthy” to understand its evolution.

Stacy Bingle is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.

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