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A holistic guide to the supermarket shelf. How ‘Mindful Nutritionists’ influence scientists at Univar’s ‘Foodology’ labs

6 min read
Fruit blend

Most food and drinks manufacturers would love a crystal ball to predict the next big trends, painlessly ushering them towards creating new products that will fly off the shelves.  
And while there are many excellent forecasting agencies that do a great job at this, anyone who wants a more street level approach should take their cue from food scientists and nutritionists, who know that their clients are demanding food that works smarter and harder for them – and for the planet – than ever before. 

Nutritionists who look at the whole picture or who, to put it another way, work holistically, are not new. In fact, all good nutritionists look at their client as a whole, considering their emotional state, outside stressors and lifestyle factors as much as their diet and the science behind what they consume. 

But a new dawn of ‘mindful nutritionist’ is starting to take centre stage, treating food and the human body with a higher reverence and mutual respect – and it’s being mirrored by their clients with increased levels of self-care and a greater personal knowledge about nutrition. These eating gurus, along with their devoted clients, consider where their food came from, how it was prepared, who prepared it and what impact it will have on their own bodies as much as on the planet.

Discover upcoming webinars from Univar: Healthy Nutrition: Discover Wellness with Univar Solutions Food Ingredients

Speaking to Food Matters Live earlier this year, leading nutritionist and author Rhiannon Lambert explained her journey into her, now, award-winning career: “(In my early 20s) I was malnourished, but nobody picked up on the fact I wasn’t eating well so I ended up becoming fascinated and thinking, ‘Well why don’t I just learn more about food myself?” 
She now believes simple is best when it comes to healthy food options, saying, “I am of the firm belief that getting back to basics and keeping nutrition simple is the easiest way to maintain a healthy body.” And her philosophy certainly extends to food labels, as she explained, “When you walk round a supermarket ticking items off your shopping list, you may well think that you’re picking healthy products for you and the family. Yet, it’s still a real challenge to identify a truly healthy food.” 

Also leading the way is Tim Spector who, while certainly a nutritional expert, is actually a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London. Professor Spector was instrumental in tracking how Covid was spread and how it presented itself. He spoke to Food Matters Live two years ago, already able to pinpoint that gut health was going to be the most important field of nutritional study and he explained how it can aid digestive health, boost our immunity and even our happiness too. 
“It’s like we have discovered a pot of gold sitting in the lower part of our guts that we didn’t concentrate on much before,” he explained, “We have evolved from bacteria and (now) they are making sure they keep their host generally healthy. They produce chemicals that we need to run our bodies properly and some of them involve brain chemicals like serotonin that keep us motivated and happy in life.”

And he was right, of course. Gut health has continued to dominate food health trends. 
Now, in a post pandemic world, the Professor eats a simple rainbow diet, where as many whole, natural foods are included as possible. He is almost fully plant-based, consuming at least 30 different plants every week and he continues to do all he can to respect and replenish the gut microbiome and he only eats fish at restaurants as a treat. 

In his latest book ‘Spoon Fed : Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food is Wrong’, Spector is vehemently anti-diet and anti-calorie counting, instead encouraging us to rethink our whole relationship with food – not just for our health as individuals, but for the future of the planet.  
It is Spector and a new community of healthy eating experts who can tell us exactly what we to do to have a ‘hit’ product on our hands. But it needs to tick a lot of boxes. 

Wooden bowl filled with crisps

Now, it’s unlikely that one product will be able to please every need and meet every new trend. Or that every consumer is, yet, this enlightened. But for the purposes of this example, what would said Holy Grail or unicorn product look like?  
It would be all of the following: healthy, sustainably made, plant-based, low in salt and sugar, full of fibre, good for the gut, naturally high in protein, immunity-boosting and support mental health. Its ingredients label should have as many natural, whole foods as possible, as few E numbers as possible and be easy to understand, (in other words a ‘clean label’). It should also come in biodegradable packaging, its origins should be traceable, and it should have brand messaging that authentically supports and amplifies all of this.

It’s a lot for one product, but, thankfully, there are ingredients experts who are up to the task of bringing most of these requests to life, either to help manufacturers move their existing products into the ‘Now’, or to help new product developers to bring their fresh ideas to market, both delighting savvy consumers and fulfilling all the legislation along the way. 
Ingredient formulation companies like Univar know that delivering sustainable and nutrient-dense functional products across the big, core categories of bakery, snacks, beverages and dairy is becoming a prerequisite for any successful product launch.

Natalia McDonagh, Head of Marketing & Technical Sales, EMEA at Univar Solutions, says: “Today’s consumers are constantly on the lookout for cleaner labels, less sugar, salt and fat, fibre and protein fortification, and meat- and dairy-free choices with an enhanced sensorial experience. Consumers are effectively becoming Mindful Nutritionists, educating themselves on what they need for health and wellness. They are mindful about the nutrient density and functionality of their foods, and we will soon see a combination of holistic health and self-care in food and beverage markets like never before, with a sharp focus on ingredient sustainability and taste, flavour, texture and appearance.” 

The company says its own findings consistently back those of nutritionists and they also cite gut health, HFSS, mood-boosters, clean labelling, fibre and immunity as the big growth areas to carry on watching in the areas of Bakery, Snacking, Beverages and Dairy. 
“The focus of our efforts is to bring quality, efficient solutions and options to food & beverage manufacturers of all sizes so that we can help meet these needs,” Ms McDonagh added,” We hope our Discover Wellness Concept will help formulators, purchasers, marketers and brand owners alike to advance innovation for stronger consumer choice.”

Anyone working in Food & Drink who either wants to find out more about how to implement holistic nutrition into existing products or how to launch a new product that meets these needs can join Univar Solutions’ technical team at the Virtual Discover Wellness Series throughout June, kicking off on June 8th with a cookery demo from creative duo Bingham and Jones :  
Healthy Nutrition: Discover Wellness with Univar Solutions Food Ingredients | Univar Solutions