Today’s consumers are more aware of the importance of lifestyle trends that support their health and wellness than ever before. For food manufacturers and retailers, appealing to this heightened awareness is no longer relegated to niche consumer segments, or those who are perhaps older or in poor health.
In fact, 79% of global respondents in Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness Survey 2015 indicated that they actively make dietary choices to prevent health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. Two-year sales trends support that notion and reveal that healthy food purchases are on the rise.
Considering consumers’ strong interest in getting healthier, and recent purchasing trends, “good-for-you” products are positioned for continued growth. In fact, 40% of the survey’s global respondents say they plan to buy more fruits (41%) and vegetables (39%) in the next six months. In addition, one-quarter plan to buy more fish and seafood (25%), yogurt (24%) and water (23%), and one-fifth plan to buy more nuts and seeds (22%), cereal (20%), juices (20%) and meat and poultry (18%).
The Nielsen Global Health & Wellness Survey 2015 polled 30,000 online respondents in 60 countries to identify how consumers feel about their body image and the steps they are taking to get healthier.
Health is going mainstream, highlights Nielsen’s Global Professional Services executive vice president Susan Dunn. “As consumers around the globe search for better, healthier and smarter solutions that fit their lifestyle and specific needs, the motivation for manufacturers and retailers to foster strategies for a healthier world is powerful.”
Nearly half (49%) of global respondents consider themselves overweight, and a similar percentage (50%) is actively trying to lose weight. The majority of respondents rely on tried-and-true methods to lose weight—diet and exercise. Three quarters of global respondents who are trying to lose weight plan to change their diet, and nearly as many (72%) plan to exercise.
“There’s tremendous opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers to lead the healthy movement by providing the products and services that consumers want and need. While diet fads come and go over time, innovative, back-to-basics foods that taste good, are easy to prepare and provide healthful benefits will have staying power. The first step is knowing where to put your product development efforts,” notes Dunn.
Not everyone agrees on the best methods to lose weight, but nearly three-fourths (74%) of global consumers believe they are what they eat. So what do consumers look for in the foods that fuel their bodies? While fresh, natural and minimally processed foods are most desirable around the world, not all health attributes are equally important around the globe.
In Asia-Pacific, the importance of food attributes largely mirrors the global average, with a few exceptions. The desire for sustainably sourced ingredients (43%) is higher than in any other region except Latin America (tie). The absence of caffeine is also rated more important in Asia-Pacific (28%) than worldwide (23%).
“Consumers with limited disposable income need to get the most out of the products they buy, which is oftentimes the case in developing countries,” says Dunn. “Foods that help meet essential nutritional needs are very appealing, while those with positive social and environmental benefits may be considered less essential or ‘nice to have’.”
Dunn stresses that the growth of healthy options does not automatically come at the expense of indulgent offerings. “There’s room for both healthy foods and occasional treats in the consumer’s diet. It’s the semi-healthy options that are most impacted. To drive growth for these offerings, manufacturers should look for areas where they can improve the nutritional profile of foods and highlight the health benefits their products provide to consumers.”
Do health claims on package labels help boost sales? Nielsen’s two-year review of purchasing data indicates that these claims are strongest when added to products already considered healthy. Healthy products with packaging callouts tend to outperform the category as a whole. The effectiveness of label claims for semi-healthy and indulgent categories, however, seems to depend on the consumers’ perception of the product. Sales of potato chips with whole-grain labelling, for example, decreased 11% between 2012 and 2014, but sales of potato chips with low or reduced sodium increased 18%. Consumers may think of potato chips as a salty snack, so a low-sodium option may be more appealing than whole grain.
Which health attributes are considered very important in purchasing decisions? Foods that are all natural (43%), made from fruits/vegetables (40%) and organic (33%) are among the most favoured preferences for global respondents. Sales figures reflect these preferences, as products with “natural” and “organic” claims grew 24% and 28%, respectively, over the two-year period. Also consistent with the interest in more pure/natural products, sales of artificially sweetened “diet/light” products declined 12%, while products naturally sweetened with Stevia grew 186%.
While roughly one-third of all respondents consider any health attribute “very important,” sentiment varied by age and the findings may not be what one would expect.
For example, respondents from the Silent Generation (aged 65+) do not place as much emphasis on health attributes when they make purchases as other groups do. In fact, despite their advanced age and increased proclivity toward health issues, the oldest generation has the least amount of respondents who consider health attributes very important in their purchase decisions. Health attribute ratings are highest among Millennials (21-34), followed by Baby Boomers (50-64), Gen X (35-49) and Gen Z (under 20).
Some 40% of Gen Z respondents say ingredients sourced sustainably are very important in their purchase decisions, followed by Millennials (38%) and Gen X (34%) respondents, compared with only 21% of the Silent Generation. Conversely, sugar-free and low-sugar products are more important to older consumers. Some 37% of Baby Boomers and 33% of Silent Generation respondents say these attributes are very important, compared with 26% of Gen Z and 31% of Millennials.
To find the deepest level of commitment to healthy foods, one needs to look where people are willing to put their money where their mouths are. The survey showed that a willingness to pay a premium for health attributes declines with age as well. Gen Z and Millennials are more willing to pay a premium for all attributes in the survey, even those that are more important to Gen X and Baby Boomers.
The generation gap is particularly pronounced for functional foods that reduce disease risk or promote good health and for socially/environmentally responsible foods. For example, 41% of Gen Z and 32% of Millennial respondents are very willing to pay a premium for sustainably sourced ingredients, compared with 21% of Baby Boomer and 16% of Silent Generation respondents. Gen Z and Millennials are also leaders in the gluten-free movement. Some 37% of Gen Z respondents and 31% of Millennials are very willing to pay a premium for gluten-free products, while only 22% of Baby Boomer and 12% of Silent Generation respondents are willing to do so.
“While age often dictates a need for foods that contain certain health attributes, it is the youngest consumers who are most willing to back up their sentiments with their wallets,” says Dunn. “As Millennials’ purchasing power increases, manufacturers and retailers that make the effort to understand and connect with the needs of this generation can increase their odds of success.”