British women were the most enthusiastic dieters, with nearly two thirds (65%) claiming to have tried to shed weight in the year to September 2013. Nearly half (44%) of men tried to lose weight over the same period.
But an increasingly diet-conscious nation was not boosting sales of diet foods. Diet product sales increased by only 7% over the past five years to reach £1.8bn last year.
Sales rose by 2% in 2013, after falling by 1% in the previous year. Biscuits and yogurts were strong performing sectors, with annual growth rates forecast to reach 7% and 12% respectively last year.
Market was held back
Mintel said the market was held back by negative connotations related to diet food products, leading consumers to choose other means of weight loss. More than half (59%) of consumers worried about the ingredients or artificial sweeteners in diet foods, while 55% doubted the authenticity of significant calorific differences between these and their standard alternatives.
Other objections included: the perception of small serving sizes, voiced by 51% of shoppers, and distrust that diet brands provide nutritious food. Only 32% trusted such brands to make nutritious food.
Emma Clifford, senior food analyst at Mintel, confirmed: “Sales of diet and weight control foods are struggling, which is at odds with the huge consumer interest in losing weight, framed by rising levels of obesity.
“There is a myriad of other routes towards weight loss that consumers prefer over buying ‘light’ or ‘diet’ food, with exercising more being the most popular, furthermore, the market is hampered by negative perceptions in terms of healthiness and portion sizes.”
More than half (60%) of consumers prioritised exercise over making dietary changes – such as eating less fatty foods (49%), smaller portions (48%) and cutting back on sugary foods and drinks (48%). Less than half (41%) cut their dessert intake.
The drive to shed pounds reflected the strong societal focus on weight, size and diet, said Clifford. “The fact that exercise tops the nation’s dieting actions reflects high levels of awareness about the importance of exercise to general health and wellbeing, as well as the pleasure that sport gives to many consumers.”
Also, undertaking more physical activity to burn more calories may make people feel less guilty about eating certain foods, said Clifford. That was good news for ‘standard’ brands but less favourable for light and diet products.
Nearly half (45%) of Britons associated foods which contribute to their recommended five-a-day with healthiness. That was followed by low-fat or fat-free (42%) and low-sugar or sugar-free foods (42%). But only just over a quarter (27%) chose ‘light’ or ‘diet’ foods when eating healthily.
Meanwhile, eating an apple a day could prevent 8,500 deaths, according to research published last month in the British Medical Journal.
- 13% of those trying to lose weight have kept a food diary and 10% used a dieting app.
- 39% prefer the 5:2 diet, making it the nation’s favourite.
- 32% prefer low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins.
- 25% prefer high protein or low fat diet plans such as Dukan.