• by Cara Rasch
  • December 13 2021
  • diet
  • food

The Rise of Low-Carb, Keto, and Paleo Snack Trends

The Rise of Low-Carb, Keto, and Paleo Snack Trends

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of consumer behavior and daily life. The grocery market experienced much faster than average growth in 2020 since people were staying at home more than usual due to remote work and schooling. Consumers are also snacking more when home more during the pandemic, and some have gained weight.

Interest in low-carb eating plans has increased as consumers are making efforts to improve their health or shed pandemic pounds. The keto and paleo diet both feature lower carb content and have a generally healthy perception among consumers, leading to increased demand for keto and paleo food and beverage products.

What Are Keto and Paleo?

The keto (or ketogenic) diet mandates very low carbohydrate intake, high fat, and adequate protein content. It forces the body to burn fat by making carbohydrates scarce.

The paleo (or Paleolithic) diet, also called the “caveman diet” or the “stone age diet,” consists of foods thought to reflect those eaten during the Paleolithic era. There are different variants of the diet, with some being fully plant-based and some featuring animal products. The diet encourages adherents to avoid processed foods and opt instead for whole options like vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, eggs, meat, and seafood. Besides the broad category of “processed,” forbidden foods include dairy products, grains, added/refined sugar, legumes, salt, alcohol, and coffee. Although the paleo diet is not strictly low carb, in practice the allowed foods tend to provide fewer carbohydrates and more protein and fat content than standard American diets.

Why Low-Carb?

In general, eating too many calories from any type of food can cause weight gain because unused food energy is stored in the body. However, over the past several decades, consumer ire has shifted from high fat eating to excess consumption of sugars and carbohydrates as the main contributors to weight gain.

Many consumers avoid sugary foods for reasons of disease prevention and weight management. Sugar is often singled out for avoidance due to:

  • high calorie content and calorie density in foods
  • negative consequences of consuming products with a lot of added sugars (such as increased body fat and energy crash)
  • diabetes, which affects about 10% of the U.S. population and one in four people over the age of 65, according to the American Diabetes Association
  • other health reasons, such as recent surgery requiring a special diet

Additionally, some studies show that sugar may be as addictive as cocaine, or even more so. Sugar can also be bad for the brain, potentially contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Viewing sugars or carbs as “the enemy” has led many people to follow diets that reduce or eschew them, including paleo and keto diets. Many consumers think that these diets can help prevent weight gain and lead to better health.

Younger Adults Driving New Product Development

Younger adult consumers are of particular importance to the keto and paleo food market. Millennials and Generation X are more likely to follow a paleo or keto diet, while more established low-carb diets – such as Atkins – are more likely to be followed by slightly older consumers.

Those in the 25-44 age group – Millennials and younger members of Generation X – are significantly more likely to follow the paleo diet. Millennials are the most likely to shop for groceries online, and they tend to place more value on premium and better-for-you food and beverage labels such as “organic,” “clean,” and “natural” than their younger counterparts. Thus, labels in the better-for-you arena are especially important in products marketed to them, including those for specific diets such as keto and paleo.

The 35-54 age group, comprised of older Millennials and Generation X, is the most likely to follow the keto diet; the Atkins diet, which is very similar to keto but was first introduced in the 1970s, is more likely to be followed by those age 45-64.

It is also important to note that many consumers in all age groups (including older consumers aged 55+) follow special diets. There is an opening for keto and paleo food marketers to reach these consumers for increased sales by addressing their specific health concerns. Low-carb diets may be beneficial for some conditions that are common in older age, such as diabetes.

Additional analysis of the market for keto and paleo foods can be found in the November 2021 Packaged Facts report Keto and Paleo Consumers: High Protein/Low Carb Diet Trends and Opportunities.

About the blogger: Cara Rasch is a food and beverage analyst for Packaged Facts. She studies consumer and industry trends in this space and has a B.A. in economics from Allegheny College.