Premium POV

Redeeming the Whole30 Hangover

How CPG food brands can capitalize on post-COVID behaviors once resolution diets are done


I’m a Whole30 survivor, and I only cheated once. I had a really good reason, though: I would have crushed the soul of my son had I not tasted his first-ever, from-scratch cheesecake. I was being a great dad. But I admit now that it tasted so sweet that I’d classify it as almost offensive. This is evidence that the diet was actually doing what it’s supposed to do for this fifty-year-old sweet tooth. Whole30 was effectively purging me from a steady intake of added-sugar and chemically enhanced snacks, fast food, and groceries that had become everyday bad habits.

Who’s to blame for American food choices?

I blame our family’s poor eating routine of 2020 on COVID and comfort-seeking. The pandemic had made us callous to the junk we regularly added to our shopping carts. Whole30 was pretty tough to stick with, even with so much eating at home in 2020, and I couldn’t have done it alone. But the diet is way easier when it’s done like I did it—with the help of a few other diligent family members to do all the food prep. My contribution to our Whole30 team sport was the weekly grocery run: a laborious trip to Costco and Whole Foods, scrupulously reading every nutrition facts label like a dad version of Karen. I did, however, make sure I wore my skinny jeans and hoodie to look the part as I blocked the aisle to read the fine print, holding each item at arm’s length, and squinting through my progressive lenses.

As an ad guy who has marketed CPG brands his whole career, I realized I had stepped in to the very target consumer demo my team has spent years marketing to: that finicky, millennial-esque shopper who’s willing to pay more for the perfect ingredients list. My eyes became opened to a whole new mindset, and the consumer behaviors I used to roll my eyes at I now found myself embracing. A $7 bottle of ketchup? If it has no added sugar, I’m in. A $9 box with only 50 1-inch crackers? If it’s made with almond flour, into the basket it goes. For sure, the primal foods craze has expanded the ivory towers of northern California to reach the “shores” of mainstream Texas, even beyond the Austin city limits!

Reintroducing disciplined diets

For 30 days, dozens of new brands popped into our kitchen. Our family discovered many healthier “look-alikes” and “taste-alikes” compared to the items typically stocked in our pantry and fridge. The results are in: we all lost a satisfying amount of weight, felt better, and were willing to give some of our new dietary choices a regular spot on the shopping list. As COVID subsides, smart brands will see the data and anticipate the oncoming need for healthier choices.

  • Interest levels in Whole30-, Keto-, and Paleo-related topics are between 100% and 200% higher in Q1 vs. the rest of the year, according to Google trends. If prior years’ trends are any indicator, 2021 is poised for massive growth due to the pandemic’s “pause” on dietary self-discipline.
  • Search interest for the word “diet” hit a 10-year low at the end of March, 2020 (thanks, COVID); the term’s annual low spot is usually the end of November, followed by  increased interest toward the new year. Consider now what the consumer post-COVID response will likely be to all our comfort eating.
  • The “Quarantine 15” is a real issue among American households, as acknowledged in this article by Yale Medicine; utilize your brand’s voice to have a relevant rebuttal to this common consumer frustration.
  • Even our Premium Brand Index shows that, for more than a decade, healthy brands categorically attract not only consumers with the highest incomes, but perhaps more importantly, they attract consumers with the highest mindset toward brand loyalty. If premium foods statistically attract more loyal consumers with higher income, how is your brand responding to this consumer tendency?

When healthy food options become the new staple

So even if your brand isn’t all about health trends like Keto, Paleo, or Whole30, look for ways a SKU or product line in your portfolio can prove relevant to these conscientious communities. The important thing is for your brand to stick around once the diet is done. Having a diet-friendly SKU might introduce your brand to a consumer who finds your legacy SKUs favorable when they purchase off-diet, either to reward their cravings or to host non-dieters during the holidays. Look at the micro-trends within your category as well as the digital performance in your own SEO keywords. This kind of analysis will reveal the nuggets of opportunity that abound within the trends at the higher levels. When brands execute well on such insights, the premium alternative can become a new staple alongside the regular brand, sometimes displacing an old brand as the new, preferred choice. The hard work of marketing pays off here for the brands that do it right.

For me, the Primal Kitchen avacado-based mayonnaise now has a permanent place in our fridge alongside the Hellmann’s. Wow. I never expected that, nor that I would like it. Hmm. Another redeeming after-effect of Whole30.

Encourage discretionary spending on healthy, premium food brands

Throughout 2021, consumers will likely continue to perceive small trade-ups in premium foods as an easy financial trade-off while discretionary spending is still slowed by pandemic-driven restrictions. Hopefully, the year will see our mobilization and travel gradually return to normal. But until it does, premium brands have an opportunity to convince shoppers to upgrade in ways that feel financially small relative to the emotional benefits of eating smarter.

So to all the Karens and dad-Karens out there: keep to the left side of the aisle as you read the labels so you can see the oncoming shoppers! And please let me know if anyone finds a Whole30-friendly cheesecake recipe.

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