This month our focus is on Health and Wellness, specifically a food manufacturing, marketing and retailing perspective on health and wellness.
In this first of two articles I want to share with you some perspectives on health and wellness so that you have a digestible summary of the relevant consumer trends. If you’re already competing in this space you may already understand much of what follows. If not, then now’s a good time to increase your knowledge of this important segment of brands.
In the second article I hope to provide some knowledge and strategies that you might consider for the future of your business and brands.
Increased Visibility of Health and Wellness
Not so long ago, the term ‘Health and Wellness’ tended to be associated with tofu eating yoga practitioners who had leanings toward communal living and voting Green. We have seen a total mainstreaming of this trend in the past decade with literally thousands of brands, products and services targeting the consumer motivation to be, look, and feel, ’healthy’. Walk the supermarket aisles and you’ll be faced with magazines, supplements, cosmetics, beverages and foods all promising to detox, exfoliate, anti-oxidate, cleanse, eliminate and otherwise elevate the shoppers internal and external state of being. What are the consumer mega-trends driving this rapidly growing trade in ‘well-being’?
The Age of Prosperity and the Prosperity of Age
Despite rising house prices and lagging incomes, it is fair to say that the current householder has far greater access to consumer comforts and leisure products. We also have more weekend leisure time to enjoy these goodies thanks to the five day working week. And we are much more intensively marketed to by the various brands thanks to the myriad of media outlets and our general mobility. We live in an age of unprecedented choice.
And we are getting older. Average ages continue to rise in the west as the last of the baby boom generation enters its forties while the oldest baby boomers are beginning to enjoy their retirement. This generation of retirees are healthier and wealthier than any that precedes them. They have high expectations and generally speaking are prepared to spend to ensure that they remain comfortable in their reclining years.
Aging is taking its toll on our bodies. So we exercise, we take supplements, we moisturise, we cleanse, we dye, we pluck, we wax, we stay abreast of fashion trends and we wear clothes that hopefully knock a few years (and kilos) off.
Working Harder not Smarter
Despite the 5 Day Week we are all working a lot harder. Prior to the oil shock crisis of the 1970’s, getting a job in New Zealand was as easy as picking up the phone. Today’s youth needs a qualification of some sort just to get an interview. Children are required to stay at school longer and then need to take out a very significant loan to get the requisite qualification. Starting salaries haven’t improved much in the last two decades so many young people need two jobs. Once in full time employment the actual hours worked will generally exceed 40 hours resulting in reduced time for exercise and play (particularly in the darker winter months) with friends and family. Women in particular are doing 100% more paid work than their mothers of just one prior generation. And what’s more, retirement age is rising so that actual retirement doesn’t start until the late sixties. In the absence of a healthy balanced lifestyle leaving adequate time to cook well, eat well and exercise we look for assistance ‘off the shelf’. We actually have fantastic access to very high quality food in NZ but generally speaking, due to increased stress and reduced time, are increasingly reliant on food cooked or pre-cooked by someone outside of our own homes. We are thus leaving the decision of what goes into the food and thence into our bodies to someone else.
The Media and the Beauty Myth
The entertainment industry and its associated media community generally present us with and idealised version of physical beauty and vigour which is generally distorted and unobtainable. Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, the ‘it’ girls and their entourage of pretty girls and boys present us with an artificially youthful benchmark of vigour, health and wellbeing. From a young age we are programmed to idolise youthful vivacity and resist the wrinkles and aches incumbent with advancing years. Brands that can help us to manage our weight, our internal functioning, our capacity to meet the day and all its challenges head-on and looking good while we do it, are helping us to be (or become!) the people we believe ourselves to be.
You will be aware of popular programs like ‘Ten Years Younger’ and ‘What Not to Wear’. They too contribute to the Health and Wellness trend by showing us that a little bit of effort and investment in our physical appearance can pay off big time while at the same time exposing our insecurities about how we present ourselves to the wider world. Conversely we are exposed to weight management programs such as ‘Downsize Me’ and ‘Biggest Loser’ which show us we can take control of our appearance with a disciplined regime of good diet and regular physical exercise.
Obesity and Weight Gain Generally
As a nation, we are not only getting older, we are getting heavier. Approximately 50% of the NZ adult population is over or even excessively over what doctors consider healthy weight to height ratios. The Government are acutely aware of this fact and the impact that increasing weight is having on the health budget. The onset of diabetes and cardio-vascular complications is getting younger and more severe and the economic consequences are astronomical. The fact is we are eating more, consuming more calories, and doing less. Less walking, less exercise, less physical or manual work. A recent interesting British statistic: in the 1970’s girls under 10 had an average unsupervised ‘roaming’ distance from home of 800 metres. Today that distance is closer to 200 metres. The government realise that unhealthy weight gain can not be entirely accorded to the work of the food industry. But given the prevailing social conditions which are very difficult to change they are taking an increasingly oppositional position towards food marketing generally and “treat” foods specifically. In most cases it is fair to say that the overweight are making poor choices with respect to diet and exercise. This is a major issue for food manufacturers and retailers and we will talk more about it later on.
The Environment, the Ingredients and the Free Radicals
It is probably remiss of me to lump all this in together but hopefully you’ll get the connection. Most of the women I know are well educated, well read, in paid employment and aged between 30 and 50. They all have some basic understanding of biology and understand the importance of vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrate. They know where their kidneys are and what they do. They seem obsessed with their livers. Cellulite is the enemy. Fibre and Omega 3 oils are their friends. These women seem to have an unnatural aversion to all the things my male friends take for granted. They are suspicious of heavy metals, additives, hormones in food, genetic modification and most of all ‘carcinogens’ and ‘free radicals’. Apparently carcinogens and free radicals invade our bodies daily and destroy our mitochondria or DNA. I’m told they are mostly why we get sick, get old and eventually die. Therefore, and yes I am getting to the point, products that detox us of these free radicals or do not contain them in the first place are good. Everything else, to a greater or lesser extent, is bad. So far I have failed to find ‘free radicals’ on the ingredient description of my favourite foods, but I am assured by my wife and her friends “they are there, you just cant see them, they’re everywhere!” So these are the beliefs that many household shoppers (male and female) hold.
Consumer Demand for Health and Wellness
It’s a fact that the trickle has become a tide. Will it become a tsunami? Who knows? What we do see is that many factors are stacking up to drive expansion of this segment across many categories. In the second article we’ll look at who’s embracing the trend and see what we can learn that will help your business to benefit from this genuine consumer led market trend.
Rob Bree was previously executive director of the Food Industry Group and represented the industry’s efforts to confront the issues associated with obesity in New Zealand. Rob can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org