Over the past several years more people adhere, at least partially, to a dietary preference. Natural, organic, vegan and gluten-free are among the most familiar ones, followed by ketogenic, paleo, and a long list of more esoteric diets.
The adoption of gluten-free and vegan has already become mainstream. According to recent surveys, at least 6% of people in the US and the UK refer to themselves as vegans, while over 7 out of 10 people who pursue a gluten-free diet do so by choice, without any relation to having a celiac disease.
Vegan and gluten-free are here to stay, with a growing demand shaping a richer product offering and a wider penetration to new food categories. In chocolate confections, for example, an increasing number of products are being offered as gluten-free and vegan. In protein powders, plant-based protein substitutes the dairy powder, and so on.
In the case of vegan food, the shift in the product offering is led by R&D efforts to create appropriate substitutes by mimicking the taste and texture of dairy products. However, the vegan & gluten-free trends transcend way beyond what people eat as it becomes an essential part of their lifestyle.
Vegan is already showing strong signs of penetration in less trivial categories, as it cascades into skincare, haircare and even the textile industry. Unlike the food categories, the shift is primarily driven by messaging, utilizing existing claims or adding a new claim, assuming the product matches the requirements.
The cruelty-free label has been widely adopted in the skincare category for decades, with hundreds of SKUs being introduced each month to the market. A cruelty-free product certifies it was not tested on animals. Although vegan skincare products can be tested on animals (but not contain any animal-related ingredient), more than 70% of products with vegan claims are cruelty-free products.
The transformation to vegan trickles down steadily. In the past year an increasing number of vegan skincare products were introduced to the market. With that said, vegan skincare products are still a small fraction relative to products with cruelty-free claims.
Consumers on the other hand discuss vegan much more, and less about cruelty-free in the context of skincare; an interesting fact since these two terms are, to some extent, synonyms.
The gap between how consumers discuss, and how the current product offering looks, implies that vegan is a growing claim that is not adopted appropriately by many companies.
Dietary preference does not have to be based on moral grounds. In the haircare category for example, gluten-free is slowly paving its way to becoming a significant claim. The need for gluten-free shampoos was initially based on people with celiac disease. However, the growing demand for gluten-free diets creates an opportunity for gluten-free claims to emerge.
Compared to other dietary preferences, gluten-free is gradually taking a larger share of the discussion, while discussions around other dietary claims - organic for example - slowly fade.
The products that enter the market, however, still focus on natural and organic claims, while vegan and gluten-free share remains relatively small.
Similar to skincare, the haircare industry presents a gap between how consumers discuss shampoos, and which claims companies choose to include or highlight. The gluten-free claim seems almost “a must” in products that do not contain gluten-related materials. Moreover, people with gluten intolerance must validate the shampoo they are using does not contain any gluten. The commercial purpose is therefore to shorten consumers’ validation process and increase their confidence to purchase and use a product.
At a physical point of sale, having a label on the product would do the job. On an e-commerce website, confidence could be achieved by adding a gluten-free note to the general information. On the company’s direct-to-consumer website, a unique filter would allow to view only products that match a specific claim.
Vegan is also finding a strong base in textile, mainly through the connection to environmental issues. Environmentally friendly fabrics, as well as recycled fibers, stand in contrast to fabrics or clothing like leather, silk and wool, that are made from animals.
Consumers with increased awareness to environmentally friendly fabrics would also be inclined to use environmentally friendly detergents and softeners. Overall, the discussion around vegan detergents presents a continuous and steady growth in consumers’ discussion around detergents.
The breakdown of social platforms highlights the consistency and importance of vegan across various social channels.
Relative to skincare and haircare categories, discussion around vegan detergents is still small, but its share is already increasing significantly, and is expected to continue following the same path.
Many other categories still dwell in the territory of natural and organic claims, but are showing the first signs to adopting dietary preferences such as gluten-free and vegan. Vegan poses an opportunity as it can verify, in the eyes of consumers, that the product does not involve any harm to animals. Gluten-free is also an opportunity because it’s easier to adopt in categories where gluten is naturally absent.
In coffee for example, the Rainforest Alliance seal guarantees an animal-free harm, and its purpose is equivalent to the cruelty-free label. Consumers already contextualize coffee with dairy alternatives such as coconut, almond and soy milk, but the direct link that coffee is gluten-free or vegan provides reassurance without the need to scrutinize the ingredients list.
Vegan can also cascade into pet-care, where owners provide their pets with nutritional diets that resemble a human diet. The shift from one type of food to a custom menu opens an opportunity for pet owners to match their dietary preference to that of their pets to a greater extent. In that sense, reducing meat or gluten intake can be included in many pets’ daily menu as treats and supplements. The immediate move would be for companies to utilize the dominant grain-free claim and “humanize” it with the gluten-free one.
Tapping appropriately into categories with a new dietary claim, or fortifying presence in existing categories, depends on three main pillars. The first of which is understanding the evolving supply and demand of the ecosystem. Next is analyzing external trends that may affect the category, and characterize how key opinion leaders lead the discussion. Lastly, identifying early signals before the trend has reached a tipping point, allowing companies to proactively lead the trend instead of responding to it.
CPG/F&B Business Consultant at Signals Analytics. Ofir has an extensive background in advertising and market analysis. At Signals Analytics, he works across various industries, including Confectionary, Fabric and Haircare. Ofir holds a BA in Management & Philosophy from Tel Aviv University.