Innovation in the healthy food and drink space is becoming more adventurous, responding to a growing desire for more complex, emotional connections to the natural world. Celine Longden-Naufal from our Crowd Signs semiotics team investigates how brands are encoding this new explorative frontier into their products...

Beyond the old oat milks and pea-based protein powders, we’re seeing a new wave of creativity and exploration in the healthy food and drink landscape, one that embraces a deeper emotional connection to the natural world. This emergent outlook is not only more playful, but also more complex, involving tantalising fusions of the ancient and innovative.

Age-old processes such as fermentation are being refreshed to create indulgent desserts. Experimental ingredients such as mushrooms and seaweed are enhancing our morning coffee. And even luxury spirits are breaking with tradition, toying with the alternative and unorthodox.  

Here, we’re taking a look at how the semiotics of this new frontier are playing out. We analyse how brands optimise these innovations to help us keep healthy, but also foster a sense of interconnectedness with nature. This, in turn, stimulates emotional and imaginative satisfaction, now part of any balanced, healthy diet. 

Mythical Escape – Isle Of Harris Distillery

Healthy foods are often portrayed as having a light touch, with ‘natural-ness’ encoded through minimal packaging design and aesthetics. Traditional ingredients are used as reminders of a cleaner, simpler time.  But, brands such as the Isle Of Harris Distillery are drawing from ancient magic and historical mystery to enhance the excitement of innovative ingredients such as algae.

The product is shown withstanding the forces of nature. It’s positioned among grass blown by strong wind, crashing waves and roaring fire, which encode power and natural invigoration in all environments. The imperfectly ridged textured bottle resembles ripples or fish scales, communicating an appreciation for all of Scotland’s marine bounty.  

The glass bottle and cork stopper connote potion bottles from childhood fairytales, and the luminescent blue of the gin itself resembles hypnotic bioluminescent algae, evoking enchantment and a magical escape. This is also communicated by the fantastical descriptions of the Scottish lands, from where the hero ingredient originates – ‘From the wind-blown seas of Luskentyre to the sweeping sands of Seilebost.’ 

Through these signals of natural mysticism and fantasy, the Isle Of Harris Distillery embeds itself within a vibrant ecological network, inviting the consumer to engage with a widened multi-species way of thinking. The brand playfully revives and integrates ancient ingredients and wisdoms to bring a sense of wonder and magic into the lives of consumers. Sometimes the way forward lies in the deep (sometimes primordial) past.

Surreal Elevation – DIRTEA 

Once a motif of earthy folk culture, the humble mushroom is having a wholesale rebrand, with fungi’s powers as a meat alternative and source of Vitamin D going mainstream. But some brands are going further. DIRTEA are using otherworldly and futuristic scapes to visualise how adaptogenic mushrooms are innovating our caffeine habits, bringing calm to our mental and spiritual states.

The warm pastel packaging and backdrops, along with levitating products, evokes surrealist, dreamscape imagery, suggesting a journey of fantastical escapism. Pristine and high-tech packaging resembles astronaut food, conveying an out-of-this-world experience. The intricacy of the mushroom’s structure also resembles the futuristic style of ultra-modern biomimetic architecture, bringing a sci-fi, almost surreal, atmosphere to the brand’s identity. Adding to this are DIRTEA’s recipes, which are named after mind-altered states – ‘Dreamweave’, ‘Supernatural’ Frappuccino, ‘Astral World’ – promising consumers a sense of elevated consciousness.

Ultimately, DIRTEA demonstrates how multi-species thinking goes beyond physical sustenance. By using signals of surrealism & dreamstates, and playing with the visual history of psychedelia, the brand positions itself as a doorway to “the beyond” – a place to gently stimulate the mind and the soul.

Contemporary Wisdom – Chantal Guillon

When we think of fermentation, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha are usually the foods that come to mind. These are simple foods that were made to last, and that have been passed down from generation to generation through ancestral wisdom. However, in the spirit of creative discovery, culinary enthusiasts are collaborating with art, science and each other to update fermentation, appealing to the growing numbers of alternative and fun-seeking consumers.

Brands such as Chantal Guillon are building on tradition, using modern fermentation processes to innovate the classic French macaron. Here, alternative processes not only benefit our bodies and environment, but is also something that stimulates our imaginations, breaking all category norms, from ingredient list to design. 

Clashing colours and fonts, from dainty and cursive to big and bold, suggest unhindered playfulness, where the lightly scattered crumbs suggest reduced restriction. Tie-dye patterns and shiny rainbow gradients connote mind-altering substances, encoding cerebral stimulation, while the seemingly un-curated product placements and bold splashes of silver on the food challenge convention.

Chantal Guillon are confronting and updating current aesthetics and behaviours, reimagining multi-species thinking as a space for exploration and discovery, one where all your senses are vitalised and boundaries are pushed. 

Lastly… 

Recent innovations in healthy food and drink and noticeable for their playfulness. Minimal and stripped-back visual languages are giving way to senses of exploration and discovery that border on the psychedelic. Simplicity is shifting to complexity, with consumers encouraged to see the food and drink they consume as part of an evolving and ultimately unknowable ecological network. Here, mystery, magic and ancient wisdom play a part, as do more contemporary trends for multispecies thinking.   

Ultimately, these brands are championing lifestyles that put people and planet on equal footing. Whether this is through flavour, texture or packaging, experimenting with the intriguing diversity of up-and-coming processes and ingredients can allow brands to transport consumers to new worlds of nutrition, which help them rethink their engagement with the natural world.