Aligning Butter With Trendy Diets

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Naturally low in carbohydrates and high in fat, butter products can benefit from keto and paleo positioning. By Michelle Teodoro, Senior Food Science and Nutrition Analyst, Mintel Food and Drink.


The keto diet’s move to mainstream creates new opportunities for high-fat, low-carb products, like butter, to reinvent themselves as being keto-friendly.

According to Mintel research, 18 percent of US consumers overall and 28 percent of US consumers aged 18 to 34 are interested in following a keto diet. A similar percentage of US consumers report interest in following a paleo diet, an eating approach that permits butter and ghee, especially from grass-fed cows.

This indicates an opportunity for food and drink brands to align with the latest diet trends. To date, very few butter products on the market are positioned against these diets.

In addition to on-pack labelling, butter can be presented in keto-friendly formats like the so-called ‘fat bombs’—high-fat, low-carb snack/dessert/energy-booster—or as an ingredient in products developed for the diet. American dietary supplement food brand, SlimFast, for example, has a keto-friendly line of products that includes a creamer made with grass-fed butter.

Consumers are looking for more benefits from their food, especially ones that come with holistic health advantages, and keto advocates promise the diet will not only help with weight loss, but also boost energy and mental clarity. Keto dieters are encouraged to eat plenty of fats, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, targeting around 70 to 80 percent of daily calories coming from fats.

Meanwhile, the paleo diet takes us back in time to our hunter-gatherer ancestors by removing grains, refined sugar and flour, among others. Butter and ghee are considered paleo-friendly, but many advocates of this diet insist that any dairy products consumed should be full-fat and from grass-fed cows.

With both diets being relatively difficult to follow, convenient keto- and paleo-oriented products could help dieters succeed. Butter could also take advantage of diverse formats that align with keto and paleo diets. Convenient butter offerings can play in categories where nuts, ghee and coconut are being used as a source of fat such as snack bars, granola and on-the-go spreads.

Furthermore, there’s an opportunity for butter brands to more overtly call out keto-friendly attributes and explore extensions into categories like snacks with butter-forward products.

Ghee, or clarified butter, products have historically been tied to India’s Ayurvedic medicine. According to the Ayurvedic Institute, ghee ‘helps to improve absorption and assimilation’, among other benefits.

Today, some ghee brands are getting creative by updating these traditional products with claims related to the paleo diet, taking advantage of the fact that clarified butter is lactose-free and high in fat.


Trendy Diets Can Go A Long Way Toward Negating Traditional Perceptions Of Butter

Trendy diets like keto help improve consumers’ perception of the nutritional and health value of all fats and can make butter more permissible.

Butter is not recognised as a good source of nutrients by consumers. In fact, Mintel research shows that just 11 percent of Italians and 19 percent of Germans associate the word butter with being a naturally good source of nutrients. Additionally, only a tenth of Italians agree that butter contains healthy fats while a third of consumers in Spain say that butter is too high in fat.

Yet, in the keto approach, ‘too high in fat’ could be a positive attribute, making butter a desirable product. The goal of the keto diet is to promote the state of ketosis, which occurs when the body does not have sufficient access to its primary fuel source, glucose. Therefore, foods that are extremely low in carbohydrates and high in fat (to help meet the body’s energy needs) are encouraged. Butter is very low in lactose and consists of at least 80 percent milk fat, making it an acceptable food in the diet.

All that said, Mintel research indicates that consumer understanding of fat is improving with negative stereotypes around it slowly diminishing. Over a quarter of UK consumers say they are less worried about saturated fat as compared to a year ago, and three in five Polish consumers think that fat is an essential part of a well-balanced diet. Finally, almost half of US consumers of butter, margarine or oil say that consuming fats in moderation is healthy. In this light, butter brands can leverage consumers’ changing perceptions to give a positive spin to its fat content.


Scientific Evidence To Support Health Positioning Is Still Limited

It’s important to acknowledge that the impact of eating butter remains unclear and debate continues around the effects that saturated fats have on health, specifically cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. This means brands in certain markets could be limited in the types of claims they are able to make about their butter products.

Scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet is also limited and the optimal balance of macros in the diet has long been debated in scientific literature. Several theories exist as to why the ketogenic diet promotes weight loss, though they have not been consistently shown in research. One of the theories is that, regardless of the state of ketosis, the weight loss associated with keto may be attributed to the increased satiety effect of fat.

The good news is that despite the lack of scientific clarity, consumers who are interested in keto will be receptive to a product like butter. Future growth can also come from consumers who do not fear fat as much and are open to using the new formats, though perhaps more moderately. Satiety could be the message for this audience and is a clear benefit that most consumers would understand. Additionally, the naturalness and flavour of butter-based products will help to reinforce the idea that butter has a role in one’s wellness journey.


What We Think

While still niche, keto and paleo diets can help improve butter’s wellness reputation and inspire new convenient offerings for health-conscious consumers who are interested in higher-fat, lower-carbohydrate dietary approaches. Butter brands can explore adding protein or other nutrients that align with the trendy diets and explore brand extensions to showcase butter in new formats that are familiar to keto and paleo followers.


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