Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). These evidence-based recommendations are reviewed by a diverse group of researchers, medical experts and scientists who make revisions based on the most current body of research. The DGA are intended to help Americans follow a nutrient-rich diet that supports wellness and protects against chronic disease. Our collective health — and bottom line at retail — will be better off when Americans begin preventing illness with a fork and a knife instead of treating illness with prescriptions and medical procedures.
The grocery industry is affected by the DGA in many ways. The DGA serve as the foundation for federally funded nutrition and public health programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC). Changes in dietary guidance will affect the qualifying foods available to SNAP and WIC recipients. In addition, the DGA cause subtle shifts in consumer preference and pave the way to new trends in wellness, marketing and product development. Lastly, in-store wellness programs, which have greatly expanded in recent years, should also align with current dietary guidance.
So what changes should retailers be prepared for once the official guidelines are released?
1. Emphasis on prenatal, infant and early childhood nutrition
Research suggests that the foods that a woman eats while pregnant and nursing, as well as the foods consumed during a child’s first two years of life, set the stage for lifelong health. The 2020 DGA will be the first to include dietary guidance for infants and toddlers under 2.
Trend/Opportunity: A focus on eating habits in the first two years of life presents an opportunity for baby and toddler food brands that support palate development by introducing a variety of flavors and textures.
2. Less Alcohol
Previous dietary guidance has allowed for up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Due to increasing research linking alcohol to chronic disease, this allowance is expected to decrease to one alcoholic drink per day for men and women.
Trend/Opportunity: Sober-curious living is an ongoing trend that’s likely to continue, presenting an opportunity for lower-alcohol drinks, mocktails/mixers and alcohol alternatives.
3. Focus on Healthy Fats and Seafood
Research connecting polyunsaturated fats with a variety of health benefits keeps growing. The DGA will likely recommend swapping saturated fats (meat, lard, etc.) for polyunsaturated fats (salmon, walnuts, avocado and olive oil.) Seafood’s healthfulness, combined with a uniquely high level of omega-3 fats, will make it a focal point.
Trend/Opportunity: Omega-3 fats are hard to find. Fatty fish, like farmed salmon from Chile, will present an opportunity, since it’s also low in mercury, making it safe for everyone, including pregnant women.
4. Lower Sugar
Current recommendations are to limit added-sugar intake to less than 10% of total calories. The new guidelines will likely tighten this limit to 6% of total calories, or 120 calories in the average 2,000-calorie diet. Choosing lower-sugar options by steering away from baked goods and sugary drinks is a core message.
Trend/Opportunity: Brands that offer lower-sugar products or use natural non-nutritive sweeteners will have an opportunity to thrive. There may also be increased brand messaging that differentiates between naturally occurring sugar (found in fruit, vegetables and dairy) and added sugar.
In addition, it’s important to note that the 2020-25 DGA are going to emphasize lifespan nutrition — that is, the importance of a healthy diet throughout each stage of life. Retailers can support overall health by understanding consumer needs, providing current dietary guidance, and offering value-added services, such as access to registered dietitians and nutrition programming, to help shoppers live well.
Kasper, RDN, LDN, is CEO of FRESH Communications, a Boston-based public relations agency serving better-for-you food, beverage and lifestyle brands.