According to Mintel, as a growing number of ‘raw’ labelled food and drink products launch in Europe, the raw food diet is gaining popularity.
But while the trend towards whole and healthier food options continues to make inroads in the European food and drink sector, for the manufacturers, the challenges of producing raw food remain.
“The raw concept takes sought-after health properties a step further,” explained Julia Buech, Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel.
“Offering not only the benefits of natural ingredients, but also of a more nutrient-preserving production process, the idea of unprocessed foods is attractive not only to strict raw foodists, but also a much wider consumer base looking for healthy products to help them feel energised.”
However, the raw market is still very niche, she argues.
Currently, the largest consumer group of raw food products consists of vegans and vegetarians, with the fastest growing group being the health-conscious consumer, who is actively looking for ‘clean’ products, leaving critics wondering if the trend has mainstream appeal?
“There is so much educating to be done,” said Chelsea Parsons, founder of British startup Well + Happy.
“Raw is still such a buzz word, so helping people to understand why we do what we do ‘raw’, will be vital to our future success as a brand,” she added.
Since launching her range of raw chocolate bars, desserts and raw confectionary in 2015, Parson’s says that the ‘strict’ all or nothing approach that used to dominate the raw food category has begun to disappear.
Now, she says consumers are realising that they can enjoy a piece of raw chocolate and its abundance of health benefits, without having to adopt a fully raw diet. And if the market is to develop further, brands will need to focus on this message.
The snack category is currently leading, with the number of snack bar launches featuring a “raw” label shooting up.
At Planet Organic in London, the organic grocer now sells more raw chocolate than regular chocolate, with the amount of raw snacks on the shelves diversifying at a rapid rate. But as new products continue to flood the market, the call for more regulation is intensifying.
“Many brands supply ingredients which aren’t necessarily certified raw,” explained Jessica Abis, co-founder of 100% Natural, a British startup producing raw brownie bars.
Abis admits that one of the main challenges in the production of their raw brownies is ensuring all their ingredients are 100% raw, however not all brands are as concerned.
Speaking at the last Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam, Teresa Havrlandova, founder of raw food company Lifefood, argued that a lack of regulation in the sector is a huge challenge for raw products.
She suggests that some sort of certification body similar to Fairtrade would help to give the market more transparency.
But it’s not just the authenticity of raw products that have critics worried. Nutritionist, Laura Thomas argues that:
“When you look at the raw products that are available on the market, they tend to be things like ‘activated’ nuts and seeds, or raw chocolates and desserts, all of which are high in fat or contain coconut oil.”
Thomas says there is a common misconception that raw foods are better, but as with any diet a raw food diet needs to be balanced – it can’t just consist of packaged flax crackers and cashew cheesecakes.
Currently, with raw food products featuring heavily in the sweet and savoury snack category, other categories such as cereals or soups are under-represented. These white spaces offer future opportunities for both domestic and international brands, argues Buech.
Soupologie, the UK’s only superfood, vegan and free-from soup collection is one such brand exploring these opportunities.
Producing a range of raw soups that target consumers looking for products with higher nutrient levels, the innovative range is currently stocked at premium supermarket chain Ocado.
“Thanks to advancements in food technology raw food can obtain a longer shelf life which, in turn, is encouraging more retail outlets to stock it,” explained co-founder Amanda Argent.
Hoping that as people become better educated about food generally, the market will continue to grow, Argent admits that due to the high production costs and limited shelf-life attached to raw food products, there is still some way to go before raw food is at a sufficiently attractive level to make it a mainstream product.
It’s an interesting market, concedes Al Overton, Head of Buying at Planet Organic.
“And as more raw brands begin to compete with regular brands, just like Green & Blacks established themselves as a chocolate brand first and an organic brand second, I think brands like Ombar will lead the way to establish themselves as a brand in their own right first, and as a raw brand second.”