The definition of “healthy eating” has long been highly subjective, as its answer depends on whom you ask. Many iterations, though, have been prescriptive, narrow, exclusive, and sometimes even culturally offensive. But moving into 2024, healthy food brands are prioritizing a more open-minded and joyful approach to eating—without any need to measure macronutrients or buy super-niche and expensive ingredients. Rather, what’s set to take over our plates is food that centers simplicity, comfort, and legitimate function above all else.
This approach to healthy eating from wellness-minded food brands is notably meeting consumers where they are, and taking into account what they’re prioritizing. According to youth intelligence research firm YPulse, nearly 80 percent of Americans between ages 13 and 39 believe that wellness can be “anything that makes you feel good.” Ninety percent agree that wellness looks different for everyone, and that it’s ever-changing. Building on the recent rise of “nostalgia foods” that center joy and comfort, brands are now realizing comfort and joy can come with simple, nutritious ingredients.
“We understand that today’s consumers are highly conscious of what they put into their bodies, seeking transparent, nutrient-dense products that also make a positive impact on the world—and we are happy to meet them where they are,” says Jesse Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Good Culture, a cottage cheese company that launched in 2014. “Our thesis from day one was to reimagine a stagnant category with responsibly-sourced and delicious products that focus on basic, nutritious ingredients.” Good Culture conveys feelings of comfort and joyful nourishment through pared-back-but-poppy packaging that calls attention to the fact that cottage cheese has 14 grams of protein per serving, no added sugar, and gut-promoting cultures. We make good a little better is the leading line on the brand’s website. Despite offering similar nutritional benefits to other long-standing competitors, Good Culture’s fresh look and to-the-point nutrition callouts in its branding leaves no one wondering whether the product is good for you.
Today’s consumers are highly conscious of what they put into their bodies, seeking transparent, nutrient-dense products that also make a positive impact on the world.
Jesse Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Good Culture
“The branding is not about aesthetics; it symbolizes our team’s dedication to transparency, quality, and sustainability,” says Merrill. And it’s working: The company’s sales spiked 81 percent year-over-year (YoY) in 2023 and increased by 111 percent at Whole Foods in the month of October alone. “As such, Good Culture has been at the forefront of this pivotal shift toward embracing simple, nourishing comfort foods like cottage cheese for years,” he says. In 2024, Merrill hints that while we can expect more fun flavor drops and additions to its lactose-free lines, Good Culture’s product development team will remain focused on the quality of its key item: frills-free, nutrient-rich cottage cheese that tastes delicious.
The functional comfort foods boom (“functional foods” here referring to those that offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition) is growing whey, erm, way beyond the confines of cottage cheese. Take the breakfast foods category, where newer players are focused on offering products that contain more plant-based protein, less added sugar, and fewer ingredients overall compared to a number of popular name-brand cereals—and it’s working. Purely Elizabeth, which earned $50 million in funding in 2022, expanded beyond no-frills granola into oatmeal, cereal, and value-sized packaging options (including granola made with Regenerative Organic Certified coconut sugar and coconut oil). In October, high-protein cereal brand Magic Spoon—known for its bright, bold, ‘90s-nodding branding—launched a line of nutrient-rich, low-sugar, grain-free “crispy rice treats” after raising $85 million and launching in over 6,500 retail stores last February. Oats Overnight and MUSH, two grab-and-go porridge brands, each raised more than $20 million for their protein-packed overnight oats last year.
In addition to prioritizing nutrition and branding, functional-food companies are also centering simple, classic pleasures: In January 2024, Purely Elizabeth will launch two new cereal flavors—Cinnamon Raisin Almond and Chocolate Almond—at Whole Foods and online. The brand will also kick off 2024 with a new line of “cookie” granolas, available in chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and double chocolate. “The new recipe marries 100 percent whole grains with organic oats and ingredients like almond butter and coconut sugar for a snackable granola cluster that has the flavor and crispy texture of a delicious cookie,” says Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO. The cookie granola contains just 6 grams of sugar plus protein and fiber.
“Market insights and our own qualitative research shows that consumers are increasingly looking to health-minded food companies for ‘me moments’; any chance to take a breath, relax, and truly enjoy a satisfying, delicious snack that also delivers essential nutrients,” says Niel Sandfort, chief innovation officer at dairy brand Chobani. Sandfort says Chobani is launching its newest innovation, Chobani Creations, next quarter at retailers nationwide—directly inspired by this data. “Each [yogurt] cup is made of rich, creamy whole milk Greek yogurt with layers of irresistible, nostalgic flavors on the bottom, like Mocha Tiramisu and Bananas Foster. They’re made with all-natural ingredients and serve as an excellent source of protein, too,” he says.
Market insights and our own qualitative research shows that consumers are increasingly looking to health-minded food companies for ‘me moments’; any chance to take a breath, relax, and truly enjoy a satisfying, delicious snack that also delivers essential nutrients.
Indeed, centering pleasure and joy is a winning approach for food in 2024, according to industry experts. Research conducted by marketing and consulting firm Ketchum in August projects that young consumers will be prioritizing food products that help them feel “happy, relaxed, healthy, and confident” above all else in 2024, says Melissa Kinch, president of Ketchum’s Food Consultancy. And for extra edge, brands must be willing to be vulnerable and ask for feedback in order to foster trust.
Granola brand Tom’s Perfect 10 is a company that works to foster feelings of community, convey pleasure in healthy basics, and involve its loyal fanbase in its product development process—all of which have been pivotal to its success. Tom Bannister, CEO of Tom’s Perfect 10 and freelance creative director, launched the brand in 2020 during the pandemic when he found himself spending hours baking granola at home with his three kids and wife, Eva Chen, the director of fashion partnerships at Instagram. Honing their granola recipe was a source of comfort and joy for his family during a dark time, Bannister says—a testament to the powerful ways that food and flavor connect us.
In launching his brand, Bannister infused community engagement and feedback into the business model. He started by polling his and Chen’s shared social media following (of over 2 million) for ideas about flavor and granola ingredients on Instagram ahead of packaging or selling any professionally. By launch in October of 2020, Tom’s Perfect 10 granola had a waitlist of over 17,000 people excited about a product they’d never even tried—showing how willing consumers are to invest in food brands to which they feel a connection.Today, in addition to two core flavors (Ginger Zing and Classic), Tom’s Perfect 10 offers one highly coveted, small-batch flavor drop a month. Lucky buyers of the limited-edition granola bags (don’t miss December’s Peppermint Brownie) are also sent a scorecard to rate the flavor out of 10 across six categories, like taste and creativity. Once monthly flavors sell out, they’re gone forever, but those that earn a perfect 10 rating become permanent fixtures. To date, Tom’s Perfect 10 has released 36 monthly flavors and has collaborated with brands like Uber and Tony’s Chocolonely.
“Suffice it to say, we’ve all been through a lot in the past few years,” says Bannister on his inspiration to infuse community feedback into the brand’s business model. “With life now put in perspective, people want to get more joy out of their culinary choices. Flavor, healthy indulgence, experiential meals, unusual pairings, and creative recipes—people are looking to be surprised and delighted by their food.” And while Tom’s Perfect 10 leans heavily on social media to engage with customers, he’s quick to point out that a picture-perfect Instagram aesthetic is not a priority. “Our focus is on flavor-forward, delicious, good-for-you granola that will withstand the test of time,” Bannister says.
“With life now put in perspective, people want to get more joy out of their culinary choices. Flavor, healthy indulgence, experiential meals, unusual pairings, and creative recipes—people are looking to be surprised and delighted by their food.”
Tom Bannister, CEO and founder, Tom’s Perfect 10
In 2024, expect to see other brands meet customers where they are: In need of comforting, updated basics. 30-year-old plant-based burger company Dr. Praeger’s is a *prime* example. In October, it launched a line of crunchy cauliflower and sweet potato veggie burgers specifically in response to the Plant-Based Food Association’s 2023 UnMet Needs report. This study—which collected data from over 60 million American households—shows that the best way for the plant-based food industry to attract new customers in 2024 is to improve the taste, texture, and nutrient-density of ingredients. “Our new line of crispy plant-based burgers is giving even more consumers what they want: a veggie-forward patty that still has that deliciously crunchy texture,” says Jenna Behrer, head of marketing and innovation for Dr. Praeger’s. She says that in 2024, the brand is looking forward to exploring different spaces—all with the goal of “tasty meets veggie” perfection.
Delicious flavor, combined with careful innovation and a quality-and-comfort-first ethos, are the key reasons for the continued success of A-Sha Noodles, says the company’s CEO and founder, Young Chang. Since it launched in 1977, A-Sha’s business has been based on a patented 100-year-old Taiwanese hand-dried noodle recipe. One serving packs over 10 grams of plant-based protein plus fiber thanks to the sole ingredient (aside from a pinch of salt) A-Sha uses to make its noodles: whole wheat flour. Today, unaltered recipe and all, the company continues to be known as the “hottest Instant ramen makers” on the market—and collaborations with other trusted brands like Momofuku have helped cement that status.
“With our world and the information we’re receiving about it changing so rapidly, we see that distinguishing what’s real versus what’s a gimmick is only getting trickier for consumers,” says Chang. “In a culture that is increasingly interested in foods that deliver on flavor, function, and fun, we see it as our responsibility as a company to continue carrying the torch of Taiwanese cuisine to all corners of the world.” A-Sha launched Galaxy Noodles in partnership with BT21 (a line of kid-friendly characters created to represent the seven members of the popular South Korean boy band BTS) in July, which infuses their classic Taiwanese noodles with Sichuan spices that the packaging promises will “blast you off on an adventure.”
What Chang says wellness-minded consumers can look forward to from A-Sha in 2024? Quality- and recipe-wise, more of the (exact, exceptional) same. But when it comes to spirited branding, cultural embrace, and fruitful partnerships, the sky’s the limit. “While we have some big cultural moments ahead and new products, our core values remain the same: transparency, innovation, taste, and sustainability first,” Chang says. In 2024, wellness-minded food brands will help usher in a new paradigm for healthy eating: food as joy. And we’re all for it.