According to research conducted by Washington, D.C., based International Food Information Council (IFIC), five macro trends are influencing consumer attitudes toward health. Laurie Demeritt of IFIC provided an overview of these findings at the Food Marketing Institute's (FMI) 2012 Health and Wellness Conference, held in April in Orlando, Fla. Terms such as "vitality,” "taking care," "preventive," "indulgence," "experience" and "fun" represent what "wellness" now means to consumers and is identified by IFIC as the first macro trend:
Wellness now represents quality of life.This differs from that of the past, where wellness was viewed as "perfunctory” and linked to avoiding the negative, such as "illness," "crisis," "treatment," "quick fix," "reactive," "have to" and "boring." Of note, consumers have a vision for how they want to live and even what they do not want life to be like.
The stigma associated with obesity is declining, and this has been identified by IFIC data as the second macro consumer trend. With over two‐thirds reporting they are overweight or obese, the expanding waistlines of themselves and their fellow Americans are becoming more acceptable. In fact, there is a diminished sense of urgency to lose weight. A “normal” weight is that typical of family members, friends and colleagues. Although consumers believe the entertainment industry typically has portrayed obese people as lazy, depressed and unproductive, they also believe this image is changing, as “heavier” people become more visible on the TV screen.
The third macro trend describes that the face of the "new American family" is affecting "traditional" eating occasions. Of significance, 70% of U. S. households have no children under the age of 18, while 28% are single-person households -- both of which have contributed to dramatic changes in eating, for example:
• Food or beverage consumed within one hour of purchase drives 1 out of every 5 adult eating occasion;
• 44% of adult eating happens alone; and
• Snacking accounts for over half (52%) of all eating occasions and has become as culturally relevant to consumers as a "mealtime."
Consumers are reporting an increased use of technology for food and health information, including blogs, recipe websites, and personal social networks. As such, it is no surprise that the fourth macro trend involves the use of the internet as the principle source of convenient and unlimited free/low cost health, wellness and food information. Such sources offer consumers the ability to determine what and who to believe allowing more control over their own healthcare.
The impact of the recessionrepresents the fifth macro trend. Demeritt noted that the consumer's definition of value has changed, with more pronounced evidence of channel shifting and greater orientation to promotional strategies. Some trends have not changed, with consumers making food and beverage trade‐offs, but not leaving entire categories or abandoning their interest in high-quality food experiences.
IFIC has polled consumers on product quality and attributes of significance when making food purchasing decisions. When queried as to the importance of various product attributes to making a food product healthier, over 60% rated ingredients added for special health benefit (e.g. fiber or calcium); higher in nutrients (e.g. protein, fiber, whole grains) and containing no trans fats, as extremely/fairly important, according to Demeritt. Over 80% of consumers seek health and wellness information from product labels including the nutrition facts panel (86%) and ingredient list (83%), whereas claims regarding what the product does not have (e.g. "low sodium"); claims about what the product has more of (e.g. fiber) and health claims (e.g. "helps to lower cholesterol") are used to determine product quality by 70%, 66% and 60% of consumers, respectively.
The research also showed that fiber and calcium continue to grow in interest by consumers, whereas protein and whole grain are increasing at a more rapid rate (in comparison to previous IFIC surveys). Demeritt identified the "rising ingredient stars" as Vitamin D and omega 3s. And the top Ingredients that consumers are avoiding included cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fat, sodium and salt, and preservatives.
Consumers have also been surveyed regarding their attitudes toward retail purchasing. The research discovered that consumers link processed foods found in the center aisles (in comparison to those sold along the perimeter of the store) with weight problems; various health conditions (e.g., diabetes); behavioral problems (e.g., ADD, energy crashes) and even food allergies. Consumers also use a series of parameters to determine if a product is fresh, real and less processed including what the product contains (absence of the "bad" and presence of the "good"); how it is made (type and degree of processing); packaging (nutrition information, etc.) and the geographic origin of the food.
From the wealth of information that IFIC has collected on consumers impressions of food, health and wellness, Demeritt concluded with a list of "Concepts to Carry into 2012" including:
1. Health and wellness is now about having fun and enjoying life. Health is no longer a
goal in and of itself. Health (and wellness) is about the ability to enjoy a higher quality of life for a longer period of time.
2. A food/beverage company should position itself as a partner, rather than a distant authority, on a consumer’s wellness journey, providing them with options of empowerment rather than trying to “educate” them.
3. Consumer eating patterns are undergoing dramatic change; look at these emerging occasions (eating alone, immediate consumption, all‐day snacking) as opportunities for growth.
4. The greatest platform for growth within food and beverage is providing options that consumers perceive as fresh, real and less processed. In short, “clean food.”
5. The “power of the perimeter” will continue as consumers seek clean and convenient foods. Prepared foods at grocery will increasingly be seen as a viable substitute for quick service and fast casual restaurant dining.
6. The desire for clean foods mirrors the increasing desire for consumers to include proactive, holistic approaches to medicine as well. The ability to speak to those desires through experiential features at retail -- from product assortment and design to employee expertise -- is key to breaking free from perceptions of the pharmacy as uninspiring and antithetical to wellness aspirations.
7. Consumers are increasingly demanding to see the “face” of the brands they buy and the organizations that make them.
8. As value is being redefined by the consumer, attributes such as experience, quality and lack of waste are becoming more important.
9. Social media is already seen by consumers as a useful tool regarding knowledge acquisition and making wellness management more convenient. Now, it needs to evolve to add even more value to shoppers during the in‐store experience.
For further information on IFIC and related reports, please visit: http://www.foodinsight.org/.
Conferences, presentations and information available from the Food and Marketing Institute can be accessed at: www.fmi.org/.