5 Reasons Why Consumers Embrace Clean Eating

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As highlighted in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle in February 2017 The ‘clean food’ trend — defining it gets messy, everyone has their own version of what “clean eating” should be and what diet/regimen you can follow: vegan, paleo, vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, alkaline and many others. The only point we can take for granted is that the less processed the food is, the more “clean” it is.

On the consumer side, things are even less clear. Why are consumers embracing the clean-eating trend? What are their motivations? Why are consumers sometimes radically changing their diet/regimen?

Some preliminary studies have already investigated this trend (e.g. Clean Eating - The Dirty Truth, BBC January 2017). However, the consumer angle is not very well developed.

In this article, we are harnessing insights from social media to gain an understanding of  #cleaneating from the consumer perspective.

Using Instagram data we managed to identify consumer trends and understand 5 key reasons consumers have for #cleaneating in the US:

Key Reason 1: I want to be healthy

It is not surprising that one of the main drivers of the #cleaneating movement is to achieve a healthy or a healthier lifestyle.

While some influencers are strongly suggesting #cleaneating can cure diseases, consumers seem to be a lot less specific and more pragmatic about it.

Insight: We observed very few mentions of specific health benefits or diseases improved by clean eating (e.g. diabetes or blood pressure). Moreover,  we observed neither food allergies or intolerances in our sample.  

Key Reason 2: To tone up my body

"a healthy mind in a healthy body" : while the benefits of pairing nutrition and wellness have been known for centuries, today more than ever themes such as #mindfulness, #relaxation, #fitnotskinny are resonating with #cleaneating. This is a very powerful driver since consumers see the results of their efforts reflected in their body.  

Insight:  within the last couple of years, entire communities and programs have been created to address this. Bikini Body Guide for example, focuses on well-being, nutrition and fitness instead of losing weight and counting calories.

Key Reason 3: To lose weight/ body fat

Losing weight is probably the most obvious driver for every kind of dietary regime. #cleaneating proposes a seemingly infinite number of recipes to achieve this goal. Some of them are novel recipes, others are existing ones with minor tweaks and some clever rebranding!

Insight: the interesting fact is that, in the case of #cleaneating, losing body fat is not the primary driver, but a secondary one. This also gives an indication of the type of audience sharing the #cleaneating content.

Key Reason 4:  To build  muscle mass

While  Reason 2 is about being fit, here the objective is much more ambitious. We are not only referring to professional bodybuilders participating in competition but also regular people wanting to build strong and visible muscle mass.

Contrary to other needs, which can mix a large variety of diets and ingredients, this one is very consistent on one simple rule: increase protein intake.

Insight: For this key driver, #cleaneating focuses on getting rid of fats and carbs to achieve maximum protein intake.

It is worth noting that food supplements based on pills or powders are widely used (e.g protein shakes). Some might say they’re almost necessary when you reach a certain level.

Key Reason 5: To indulge myself

The vast majority of #cleaneating meals are vegetable and fruit based, which can be quite bland and boring sometimes. But nobody said it should always be that way.

Indulging yourself is also possible. How? Take a well-known dish, such as the world famous burger, replace all the “dirty” ingredients with “clean” ingredients. You obtain a delicious burger with gluten-free buns, lentils, steak, organic tomatoes and salad, dairy-free cheese and sugar-free sauce.

Not to be confused with #cheatday when consumers are actually going off their diet on purpose to reward themselves for their efforts with “dirty” food (e.g a greasy and fat pizza when you’re on a low fat/carb diet)

Insight: For those who like to try new things, new #cleanfood farmers markets or food festivals are a very popular venue for clean eaters of all types. 

Conclusion

Clean eating is indeed a complicated world to understand if you look at the diverse and multifaceted offers in this novel market. However, if one focuses on consumer’s key drivers, their reasons for #cleaneating, things are much simpler.  

Using visual data was usefull in this case because we were able to qualify the consumer experience with contextual data that is not available in text-only data.

What will be the evolution of #cleaneating? How are brands going to capitalize on this trend? Conscious that I am probably raising more questions than I answered, I have one final recommendation: check out #cleaneating in the near future! You might find what consumers are thinking enlightening.