The factors driving Brazil's healthy eating trend

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/AnnaPustynnikova
© GettyImages/AnnaPustynnikova

Related tags: Healthy food, reformulation, natural claims, Nutrition, Nutrition labelling

From Brazil's food guidelines - and its advice to avoid 'ultra-processed' foods - to the influence of social media, a number of factors are converging to help make the country's food healthier and nutrition-based, says one expert.

While consumer desire for natural products, unprocessed foods and plant-based products is being seen around the world, the trend has a certain weight in Brazil as it is supported by the country’s official national dietary guidelines, according to Cynthia Antonaccio, founding partner and CEO of nutrition-focused marketing and product development consultancy, Equilibrium Latam.

Published in 2014, the Brazilian dietary guidelines use the NOVA food classification system and offer 10 pieces of advice​, the first of which is ‘Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet’. Number four is ‘Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods’.

It’s not just a fashion or trend, it’s what [we] learn about[in school]​,” Antonaccio said.

'Companies are desperate'

According to Antonaccio, when the guidelines were first published, they came as a shock to many in the industry.

“Even I myself thought the advice ‘don’t eat ultra-processed food’ was aggressive’,” ​she told FoodNavigator-LATAM. “As an educator and someone who works in behavioral change, I don’t think that this is the best advice. It terrifies people. It leads people to think that everything in a package is ultra-processed, even if it is just a yogurt made with milk and sugar.”

However, Antonaccio said increasing numbers of Brazilian companies are partnering with nutritionists to develop their products, which may be a result of the guidelines.

Companies are desperate. They are asking us, ‘What is natural for you? What does natural mean to nutritionists and dietitians?’”

Before food manufacturers made products and innovations based on what ingredients the R&D had and what they came up with. But now, with social media, the human being is really in the center. He or she has the power and the industry is working around that,” ​she added.

Using technology to go back to basics

Beyond social media, technology, in general, is helping individuals go back to basics, the health and nutrition entrepreneur said.

The start-up Garde Manger, for instance, grows organic vegetables and raises chickens in urban allotments in the São Paolo region. Consumers ‘adopt’ a chicken that they can even name and have fresh eggs and vegetables delivered to their homes each week. Meanwhile, Pink Farms, also in São Paolo, claims to be the first vertical urban farm in Latin America, producing salads and herbs without pesticides.

“Of course, these movements are small, but they are already here. This is already happening,” ​said Antonaccio.

Small start-ups are also attracting the attention of big-name players. Meal-kit delivery subscription service ChefTime, for instance, was acquired by Carrefour-owned retailer Pão de Açúcar while Unilever bought the organic food company Mãe Terra to increase its healthy food portfolio in the country.

Food industry players across the supply chain are working to address these concerns, said Antonaccio. Pão de Açúcar, which has worked with Equilibrium in the past, now gives much more visual prominence to fresh fruit and vegetables in its stores than before. Seara, a brand owned by meat giant JBS, launched an additive-free meat range as well as plant-based meat alternatives.

“They understood that it’s not because we’re all becoming vegan but just because we want options. We are food explorers in Brazil, we like to eat and have so much biodiversity that makes up our diet and makes us who we are.”

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