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Food and Nutrition Consumers are engaging with food and nutrition like never before. Our in-depth analysis examines the most important implications across the industry, providing market intelligence, original thinking and key insights.

Meal Replacement Trends: The Transformation from a Weight Management Solution to a Wellbeing Inspiration

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Consumers more than ever are paying attention to the type of products and supplements they are consuming for health and wellbeing. From checking the quality, sourcing and the ingredients on the nutritional or supplement label to the more acute perception of health benefits, consumers are becoming the drivers of a new transformation in the meal replacement space.

Consumers are craving for products that will help them lose or maintain their weight, optimize their nutritional needs, help them achieve their health goals, and fend-off the effects of ageing.

Is the traditional weight loss positioning of meal replacement products a thing of the past?

It may be the case. Meal replacement slimming products still help people lose weight at faster rates if they follow or adhere to a good programme as these products showed positive growth in global retail value during 2010-2015. Most growth has come from emerging markets in Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe as firms expand their operations in those regions, whereas flattening growth is reported in Australia and North America. Total global retail sales achieved an estimated US$7 billion in 2015 and are expected to reach US$9 billion by 2020.

Chart – Meal Replacement Slimming Products Retail Value by Region 2005-2020


Source: Euromonitor International

Note:  Constant/real terms, fixed US$ exchange rates 2015

Direct sellers have played an important role in the growth of meal replacement slimming products for the past ten years, and where top five companies such as Herbalife, NuSkin, Amway, USANA, and Omnilife held an estimated 44% or global retail value in 2015. Product placement through word of mouth is a key factor to success for direct sellers as their representatives engage consumers with face-to-face interactions that build credibility and expectations on the meal supplement product. Yet, while these direct sellers dominate the space, there are many firms offering unique health propositions, programmes, or premium options that are disrupting the marketplace. Firms competing in the direct-to-consumer online platform not tied to brick-and-mortar or direct sales have been successful in maintaining their momentum. They invest heavily in social media to create awareness of their diet programmes, to sell their products, and to foster peer support that help individuals achieve their weight loss goals. Some examples of direct-to-consumer players include Shakeology (Beachbody), IdealShape, Extend Nutrition, and Shake that Weight. Alternatively, lifestyle programmes are growing in popularity. For example, Smart for Life offers two programs: At-home lifestyle programme where consumers set up goals, purchase the products of the company, and participate in weekly calls to track progress; and the medical programme where a general practitioner oversees the individual’s progress aided with physical exams and medical monitoring. CertaSlim (previous All that Weight) and The Cambridge Weight Plan promote comprehensive lifestyle programmes based on a combination of meal replacement products and healthy foods guided by regular individuals trained as consultants to provide advice and encouragement to consumers.

Is diet fatigue affecting market performance?

Everyday consumers get bombarded about diet programmes or fads. One day a high-carbohydrate diet is touted as the best thing in weight loss, and then the next day a low-carbohydrate similar to Atkins or the Paleo diet promises consumers that it is the best approach to take. Detox and cleanse diets, or even the consumption of one specific type of food such as vinegar, fresh foods by colour, or banana amongst others also flood mass media and social networks with their promises of weight loss. In this intense environment it is not surprising to find advocates and adversaries for each type of dietary approach leaving the consumer confused about what is the right approach to follow. If the expectations of quick weight loss are not met, they leave consumers frustrated. Dietary approaches supported by strong behavioural support in the form of professional guidance or peer pressure have shown to be one of the most effective interventions that help people lose weight in the long term. In this new digital era, social media along with wearable devices and health apps are helping people reach their targets from the behavioural perspective.

Competition from fresh foods is becoming intense against meal replacement slimming products, especially since new dietary guidelines established in countries such as Brazil, Australia and the United States favour the consumption of balanced diets based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and less meat. Moreover, healthy meals promoted as part of the Mediterranean Diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, the MIND Diet (combination of Mediterranean and DASH diets), and the Ornish Diet are all based on the consumption of fresh foods. These two trends will cause packaged foods to see a much slower growth in total volume when compared to fresh foods prospects in the period 2014-2019.

Chart – Packaged Food vs Fresh Food Comparison – Total Volume 2015-2019


Source: Euromonitor International

High competition from other nutritional products

Apart from a rising consumption of fresh foods by consumers, other dietary supplements such as protein supplements, sports nutrition, and supplement nutrition drinks are becoming a threat to meal replacement slimming products. The protein craze has caused consumers to embrace high protein supplements sold as powders, bars and ready-to-drink (RTDs) beverages as an important part of their diets. Consumers are adding protein powder to their foods and beverages. Smoothies made with fresh fruits and vegetables and spiked with protein powder are becoming extremely popular at home and as a consumer foodservice option served at grocery retailers and healthfood shops. These drinks are now considered a super healthy meal replacement for breakfast or lunch in developed markets. Ironically, these smoothies have been a traditional healthy beverage available in the emerging markets of Latin America and Asia for generations, except for the added protein content. Along these blurry lines, sports nutrition powder is moving away from its hardcore body-building image to a lean fitness proposition for weight management and wellbeing that is challenging meal replacement products. Lastly, supplement nutrition drinks represented by brands such as Ensure (Abbott), Complan (Danone), To Go Breakfast (Kellogg’s) are moving away from their convalescence food image to market their products as a good option for nourishment on the go that may also be consumed as meal replacement in between meals.

Chart – Meal Replacement Slimming vs. Other Supplements Retail Value 2010-2020


Source: Euromonitor International

Note:  Constant/real terms, fixed US$ exchange rates 2015

The future of meal replacement – wholefood and science

Wholefood formulation

A strong emerging trend is driving meal replacement from a highly processed product to a wholefood nutritional option. Producers are formulating meal replacement products with natural ingredients only. Direct seller Purium Health offers a comprehensive line of nutritional lifestyle meal replacement products based on the stage of life - from paediatric to ageing adults; whereas store and online retailing players such ProBar (United States), Vega (Canada) and 180 Nutrition (Australia) are introducing meal replacement products for wellbeing made with natural ingredients. ProBar Meal is positioned as a whole food nourishing meal replacement bar, while Vega sells Vega One All-in-One Meal Bar, and 180 Nutrition the natural superfood option.

Genetic testing

Genetic testing as related to determining risk factors of overweight and obesity has been launched by a few firms selling meal replacement products. Amway expanded its BodyKey by Nutrilite programme worldwide in late 2014. It offers a Jump Start Kit consisting of a weight management genetic test done by Inherent Health, a division of Alticor – the parent company of Amway, along with meal replacement shakes, appetite suppressants, and dietary supplements. BodyKey 4 Plan follows consisting on four daily choices of a shake, bar, snack and exercise that promotes adherence to the programme. Alternatively, GenoVive combines a unique approach using nutrigenomics to generate a nutritional, fitness and cognitive genetic profile of an individual to personalize a dietary regimen.

Metabolism and diabetes

Metabolism and diabetes is another interesting area of growth for meal replacement. LevelLife is a very ambitious player positioning itself as unique in the diabetes management space by combining fresh foods with meal replacement bars and shakes claiming to help individuals manage their blood glucose. The company has a strong presence online and has expanded the sales of their products to drugstores and grocery retailers in the United States. Alternatively, premium direct seller Qivana Metaboliq claims to “redefine weight loss with a metabolic correction” through targeted body changes that will show results in 90 days with the consumption of shakes, bars, teas and dietary supplements.


Fasting and ketogenic diets are coming back in the form of meal replacement solutions fostered by newer programmes based on intermittent fasting - also known as the 5:2 diet and the alternate day modified fasting (ADMF) diet consisting on low calorie diets (LCDs) or very-low calorie diets (VLCDs). These diets are becoming so popular in Europe that the European Food Safety Agency Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) issued a Scientific Opinion on the essential composition of total diet replacements for weight control, including the minimum of 2 510 kJ/day (600 kcal/day) along with other minimum contents of protein (75g), carbohydrates (30g), linoleic acid and other micronutrients to reduce the risk for consumers engaging in such rigorous programmes.


Longevity appears to be the next frontier in meal replacement. The benefits of fasting or calorie restriction include a reduction in oxidative stress, inflammation, fasting blood glucose; insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) - a risk factor of cancer, while inhibiting the growth hormone and promoting cellular regeneration and cognitive health. Biotech company L-Nutra seeks to further the potential benefits of fasting with the introduction of Prolon, a consecutive five day fasting programme per month that offers plant-based meal replacement bars, shakes, soups, snacks and dietary supplements claiming to mimic and enhance fasting. The goal of the programme is to have the body enter in a protective, regenerative and rejuvenating mode that optimizes body function and promotes healthy ageing. Due to the high intensity of this fasting programme, it will only be managed by healthcare professionals.

Meal replacement is becoming an exciting field of innovation. This transformation offers new possibilities for consumers to further their health. Euromonitor International will expand its coverage of meal replacement products in the 2017 edition to capture the next stage of growth for this category.

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