Anti-obesity drugs have dropped on the food business in the last year like ChatGPT has dropped on the world. And according to experts assembled for a recent Mattson webinar on the topic, the effects of new appetite suppressants including Ozempic, Wegovy, and Zepbound have only begun to be felt among American consumers and the food industry that sells to them.

The blockbuster new anti-obesity medications have attracted millions of consumers already, registered significant weight losses for most of them, improved the overall health of many of them, and begun to bend the long-term arc of wellness in unprecedented ways. But the popularity of injectable “AOMs” is also posing challenges to food and beverage companies in their product development and marketing that they couldn’t have foreseen and are still struggling to comprehend.

“Patients are seeing a profound impact on their weight and on their lives, and medical practitioners are seeing the same,” said Justin Shimek, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Mattson, during the food developer consultancy’s recent webinar on the topic based largely on its own recent survey of patients. AOMs are “working the way no other therapy has, short of bariatric surgery.”

Besides weight loss, another benefit of AOMs has been that patients are likely to pivot toward more healthful eating patterns overall—not just cutting calories. For instance, 66% of patients in Mattson’s February survey of more than 100 patients said they are drinking less soda and less alcohol, and 38% are drinking more protein beverages.

Also, while eating fewer sweets and fatty and highly processed foods, these users are consuming more high-protein foods such as eggs, produce, grains, and legumes. They are doing more “mindful” shopping with fewer impulse purchases. And 61% spend “much less” or “a little less” time thinking about food at all.

As a result, said Jennifer Pagano, Mattson’s senior insights manager, “very few people are negative” about these drugs despite side effects ranging from constipation to pancreatitis. However, some survey respondents expressed that with the weekly injectable delivery method means that the AOM’s effectiveness seems to wear off toward the end of the week, leading to an increased appetite. Mattson believes pill forms of AOMs are “on the horizon” because supply chains for the drugs currently are “constrained,” Shimek said, mostly “due to the filling and production of injectors.”

According to Pagano, most patients surveyed focused on “the positive benefits of losing weight [such as] spending a lot less time thinking about food, which frees them up to think about other things, including listening to their bodies and the best ways to eat for them, and incorporating more exercise.”

Sufferers of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other ailments “see improvements in other aspects of their health” as they lose weight, Shimek added.

The implications for the food business are profound. “I think these medicines are both a risk and opportunity for the food industry, but clearly we believe that this is going to be a time of disruption,” said Shimek.

AOM patients not only want to avoid junk food but in general want smaller portion sizes in their food, more products to help them hydrate, more protein-rich offsets to help them counter loss of muscle mass, and more foods to ease digestion.

“The medications are training people to look for foods that don’t make them feel sick, and so in some ways, they are giving them guidance to have the apple instead of the fried chicken,” said Dr. Jorge Moreno, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, in the webinar.

“As for the food industry at large, this is a [big] moment,” said Shimek. Projections of the usage of AOMs “could reduce the amount of calories, even adjusted for population growth, so we could be looking at fewer pounds of food consumed. This is where innovators will win.”ft

About the Author

Dale Buss, contributing editor, is an award-winning journalist and book author whose career has included reporting for The Wall Street Journal, where he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize ([email protected]).