As part of our 'Spotlight on...' series, we chatted to Sophie Davies, Senior Buyer at Planet Organic, about the emerging health trends in food & drink and her recommendations for good gut health and boosting your immune system. 


Please could you introduce yourself and give a little insight into your background and experience in the world of food and drink?

I have been at Planet Organic for 5 and a half years and I am responsible for the Fresh Food & Drink department, which spans across Fruit & Veg, Bakery, Chilled Groceries and Grab & Go. My career started at Planet Organic and over the years I have seen some of the biggest wellness trends evolve. As a business we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of innovation and leading on wellness trends within the natural food and drink industry, so I have seen quite the array of innovation. The biggest trends I have seen during my time at Planet Organic have been the emergence and growth of gut health, the vegan boom to other hero categories such as CBD, adaptogens, collagen. Most recently, we have seen those trends further develop with functional led product messaging and the big one now is keto, which of course taps into the relevant low sugar message.


Planet Organic is the UK's largest fully certified organic supermarket, are shoppers showing an increased interest in food to improve their health and wellbeing? What drivers are you seeing?

We have always been a destination for health and wellbeing products and our customers are very engaged with our ethos and in tune with our organic mission. In regard to wellbeing, there is definitely a movement around food based nutrition vs supplements. For example, customers are now choosing to get their ‘daily dose’ of gut health through kombuchas, kefirs & kimchis as opposed to a probiotic supplement. This is also apparent in other functions such as protein & recovery, skin glow, calm, immunity and focus. Over the last few months we have seen an increased spend on fruit & veg as customers understand the nutritional benefits of organic.


What are THE biggest changes you have seen in consumer spending since lockdown? Is there any category or specific product which is flying off the shelves?

At the beginning of Covid, so mid-March, any immunity functional led products were flying off the shelves. This is an area which has always been strong for us but we have seen exponential sales growth on ginger shots and vitamin c sachets for example and the demand is still strong. In terms of changes in sales patterns, take home and DIY have been big for us so DIY baking mixes, breakfast, larger format products such as sharing packs /multipack and egg sales, which we are seeing no slow down on. Restaurant and pub closures led to a spike in sales on cooking ingredients and our organic wines. The MOJU ginger dosing bottle has been a hero product throughout the pandemic, and I am sure will cement itself as a top performer for us.


Are the lines between categories starting to blur as free-from, plant-based and alternative/substitute products become the norm? For example, the low and no category and free from – Where do you position a non-alcoholic spirit or an egg substitute?

Planet Organic is probably a slight exception to this as we have typically always been a destination for speciality products and have looked to give free from, plant based etc more presence than their counterparts. Our vegan meat range is larger than our meat range, our dairy free cheese range is larger than our dairy cheese range and so on. However there is always the question over where you position an ‘alternative’ product as you want to present the whole range to the consumer that is shopping for say mayonnaise and give them the option of oil based /aquafaba /avocado / soy mayonnaise or instead of buying prosecco, an alcohol free option or even a kombucha. We try to create a symbiotic destination for the categories where range size and store space permits. It is evident even in the multiples that the lines are blurring and free from/plant-based are competing with typical commodity products, which is wonderful to see.


The Government Obesity Strategy policy paper has been released, stating that ‘In supermarkets, special offers and promotions tempt us to buy foods that are not on the shopping list but are hard to resist’ and announcing the legislating restrictions on promotions and placement of certain products in stores in England. How will this impact your purchasing and are there any further measures Planet Organic will take to help tackle the obesity crisis in England?

I like to think Planet Organic is again a slight exception to this in that every product we sell we believe to be promoting health or a much better alternative then say what is on the market. Of course there are big considerations under the Government Obesity Strategy. Keto has been a fairly big trend for us over the last year, which may or may not stick around. The big takeaway from the keto trend for brands innovating and for us is how this trend taps into the low sugar message, which we will continue to expand and further communicate. We will, as we always have and always will continue to strive to communicate the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and finding the balance.


Are there any emerging trends which you are excited about and what are your predictions for the coming months?

A products success will often come down to its branding and messaging. As we see more functional led messaging on pack, this feels a really strong opportunity to engage with the consumer and enhance the shopping experience, targeting specific need states; “It’s 3pm and my head feels a bit all over the place after a busy day at work but I still have deadlines to meet” ENTERS a drink or snack with bold messaging CALM. It helps the customer with their decision and the retailer too. I think the scope of functionality within food and drink is exciting. I mentioned take home/ larger formats earlier – I am looking forward to seeing what innovation comes here and off the back of the keto trend, more low carb options such as pizza bases, pasta and crisps. I suspect the cauliflower will remain everyone’s favourite vegetable.



For more support and advice surrounding health in artisan food & drink, people, visit our 'Spotlight on... Health & Wellbeing' page.