When it comes to food and nutrition trends, the ketogenic way of eating is a defining food movement of the past five years. Keto is now the most searched-for diet on Google, helped by high-profile advocates including Kourtney Kardashian, LeBron James and Halle Berry.  

The shift towards high-fat, low-carb eating is creating opportunities for food & beverage brands to increase sales and diversify their product range. Indeed, sales of consumable goods with keto in the product description have doubled in the past year. 

But success isn’t as simple as slapping ‘keto-friendly’ on the label. 

As food labelling compliance experts, Hooley Brown knows first-hand the intricacies of marketing products to an audience that has no legal definition. However, there are still effective ways that CPG brands can tailor on-pack marketing to keto followers while staying within the food industry’s regulatory framework

Let’s explore the opportunity… 

Why is the keto diet so popular? 

While mainstream interest is relatively recent, the ketogenic diet dates back to the 1920s, when it was devised as a treatment for childhood epilepsy. It has since been associated with numerous medical conditions; many adult diabetics claim to have reduced their blood sugar levels and even reversed their type 2 diabetes by following the keto diet. 

Medical interest aside, the ketogenic diet has become popular for its purported weight loss credentials. A scientific study published in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cardiology in 2004 revealed that 83 obese participants significantly decreased their BMI as well as their blood glucose levels and cholesterol after completing a 24-week keto trial.

But while the benefits of a low carb diet are widely celebrated, what ‘keto eating’ looks like is harder to agree. For example, some keto advocates believe that followers should consume 20g of carbohydrates or less daily to reach a state of ketosis, while others say it’s fine to eat up to 50g. And this grey area around carbohydrate consumption is where keto-friendly product claims can challenge food and beverage brands. 

Can brands create keto nutrition information labels? 

The first issue keto food brands face when marketing their products is exactly how many grams of carbohydrate consumers are happy to eat or drink, and how that total figure is calculated. 

Some keto followers are happy to use the total carbohydrate figure on back-of-pack labels as their guideline. Others prefer to use ‘net carb’ calculations, which subtract fibre and sugar alcohols from the total figure. This is because fibre can help to prevent a rise in insulin.

Net carbs versus total carbs: which is best? is an ongoing debate in the keto community, but low-carb influencers Megha and Matt from KetoConnect do a good job of explaining the difference between the two (and why it matters) in this video:

The way in which keto diet followers interpret carbohydrate calculations is important to CPG brands because this information is displayed differently on packaging across the world. 

For example: in the European Union and Mexico, fibre quantities are listed separately and not included in total carbohydrate figures, which means the back-of-pack listings effectively display net carbs. In the USA and Canada, however, keto diet followers need to subtract the fibre figure from the total carbs displayed on pack, because it hasn’t been deducted from the carbohydrate calculation. 

With such variety in the way that carbohydrates are listed and counted, many keto diet advocates refer to sites like Trust No Carb to look up how to read labels and work out whether a product is keto.

 

But CPG brands want a simpler, clearer way to communicate their product’s keto suitability – especially when it comes to pre-packaged snacks and convenience food, which consumers may not instantly realise are compatible with the ketogenic diet.

Clearly portraying keto-friendly credentials is particularly important for existing food brands expanding into low carbohydrate products, to educate consumers on the change in direction. For example, SlimFast launched its first range of keto weight loss shakes and snack bars in 2020.  

Why do nutrition labels discriminate against keto foods? 

Even with carbohydrate levels accurately calculated, food and beverage brands still struggle with keto-friendly product labelling. This is because – like vegan and vegetarian foods – there’s no industry-wide regulatory framework for what makes a product ketogenic. 

In fact, nutrition legislation can work against keto food brands, as current labelling systems don’t always keep pace with dietary advice. So while there are medical bodies and industry groups promoting the benefits of a ketogenic diet, the amount of fat and saturated fat in pre-packaged keto food may be flagged with a high warning on front-of-pack labels under current nutritional guidelines.

As a result, keto brands may choose to steer clear of voluntary nutrition labelling protocol such as the UK’s traffic light system, to avoid products having any connotation of being ‘bad’ for the consumer. 

Industry regulations are starting to change; the FDA recently raised its recommended total daily fat intake from 65g to 78g. However, there’s often a lag between science and standardisation. So, how do keto brands get around these labelling restrictions to promote their credentials to consumers? 

By using nutrition claims. 

What nutrition claims can keto food brands make? 

The good news for ketogenic brands is there are many nutrition claims permitted as standard within current food labelling guidelines, which can be used to convey a product’s keto-friendly composition. For example, in the EU, food and beverage companies can label foods as low sugars/sugar-free, a source of protein and high protein. 

Products can also be labelled as a source of omega-3 fatty acids and high monounsaturated, polyunsaturated or unsaturated fat. However, as we’ve already mentioned, high fat content is often given a negative health warning rather than promoting something as suitable for keto eaters. 

Another successful technique being implemented by keto brands is nutritional claims specific to a particular product. For example:

  • KetoKeto Crunch Puffs are marketed as having 30% less carbs than other healthy crisps, with the net grams of carbohydrates per serving clearly displayed on the front of the packet.
  • The Curators also lists the total grams of carbohydrate on the front of its range of Pork Puffs, along with the total calories per serving.
  • Pulsin has used product naming to promote its low-carb credentials, creating a ‘keto range’ containing snack bars, protein powder and plant-based drinks. These goods are also promoted as low-sugar and high protein, in line with permitted EU nutrition claims. 
  • Kerrygold promotes the fact its butter is made from the milk of grass-fed cows, and grass-fed is an important buzzword for clued-up keto shoppers.
  • Miracle Noodle states that its product ranges are keto and paleo-friendly on the front of its packaging, clearly differentiating their low carb products from traditional noodles, pasta and rice.

Focussing on front-of-pack nutrition claims rather also avoids food brands having to include extended data on ingredients labels, as there’s not always space to go into more detail without overtaking product branding. However, it still enables keto food companies to promote their range to a growing consumer audience in search of high fat, high protein, low carb meals and snacks. 

Hooley Brown helps keto food brands develop and substantiate nutrition claims, optimising your product packaging to make sure your keto credentials catch the consumer’s eye. 

To find out how Hooley Brown can accelerate your keto brand growth and support your launch into new markets with compliant nutrition labelling, get in touch

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