Medical doctors began using a high-fat, moderate-protein and very low-carbohydrate diet — what today is referred to as ketogenic — to control seizures in patients with epilepsy in the 1920s. Fast-forward 90 years and this eating pattern became associated with weight loss. Mainstreaming started around 2018 after several celebrities endorsed the diet as a quick way to shed unwanted pounds. Food marketers were skeptical on the longevity of its popularity, and only a few jumped on the bandwagon with products marketed as keto-friendly. Bakers wanted this four-letter word to just go away.

Enter the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Consumers’ waistlines started expanding from overconsumption of comfort foods, fueling the popularity of keto. And now, formulators of baked goods are trying to keep their products on the menu by eliminating carbohydrates and replacing them with healthful fats, protein and fiber. 

“Early on, ketogenic products appealed primarily to keto-diet enthusiasts, but now they have a more mainstream following,” said Courtney LeDrew, marketing manager, Cargill. “While these consumers might not be looking to follow a strict keto diet, they are interested in trying some one-off keto products, perceiving them as healthier choices.”

Mintel’s “Nutrition Watch: What’s Next for Keto” report from November 2021 states that while only 5% of consumers in the United States follow the keto diet, 64% of keto dieters plan to stick with it. New bakery products with a keto claim increased more than 100%, with baking mixes, cookies and breads the top-three categories.

“If the mention of keto continues to signify a healthier bakery product and those bakery products deliver on flavor and are not priced at too high a premium, keto-friendly products will continue to grow,” said Max Maxwell, manager-market insights, Glanbia Nutritionals. “The key to growth is appealing to the 95% of consumers who want healthier products but are unlikely to commit to a keto diet.”