For some food companies, the hype surrounding healthier fare is lip service.
McDonald’s MCD -0.38% USA President Chris Kempczinski said most of its customers order based on taste, not nutritional value or environmental impact.
“Other considerations become tie breakers,” Mr. Kempczinski said at The Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum in New York on Monday.
Dirk Van de Put, chief executive officer of Oreo maker Mondelez International Inc., said at the forum that even as the snack company cuts sugar in some of its products and adds probiotics to others, indulgences such as Cadbury chocolate and Chips Ahoy continue to drive sales.
“There’s a difference between what people say and what they do,” he said. “The facts of what people really buy are very different.”
McDonald’s and Mondelez are among companies focusing on improving and marketing their core products.
Healthier snacks make up about 20% of the global snack market, Mr. Van de Put said. Those sales are growing faster than those of indulgent snacks but won’t ever reach 80% of sales, he said.
Food companies are still investing in healthier products, but they don’t always find fans.
McDonald’s in recent years replaced french fries with apples in its kids’ meals. But it discontinued some of the salads it had added to its menu. In 2017, Mondelez introduced a health-oriented cracker it called Vea, with such flavors as Greek hummus and Tuscan herbs. The high-fiber snack was ultimately a dud, and Mondelez discontinued it after spending three years developing the product, Mr. Van de Put said.
Share Your Thoughts
Is taste or healthfulness more important to you in the foods you buy? Join the conversation below.
Now Mondelez is trying to test new ideas more nimbly, with smaller numbers of consumers to gauge their response.
“It is difficult to predict what will be big,” he said.
Food companies and restaurants have worked for years to give consumers more healthful and natural foods. While sales for such products have surged, some established food companies have struggled to figure out how to keep up with new brands and chains that have grabbed much of the growth.
Campbell Soup Co. is trying again to revive its soup sales after abandoning an attempt to sell fresh foods, and the private-equity backers that took Hostess Brands Inc. public three years ago found new growth by expanding its decadent brands to new types of products like frozen, deep-fried Twinkies.
“There is a very, very small group of consumers out there who will buy something that doesn’t taste great because it conforms to their particular values,” Mr. Kempczinski said.
Some newer companies say young consumers in particular respond to their claims of healthfulness and environmental mindfulness.
“Consumers want something else from food,” said Jonathan Neman, co-founder and CEO of the build-your-own salad chain Sweetgreen. “They want food they can trust.” He added that such products still have to taste good.
“You can’t just tell people to eat it because it’s healthy,” he said.
—Heather Haddon contributed to this article.
Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8