Friday, June 14, 2024

Marketing Strategies for Health and Wellness Foods

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Brands need to cue into these key health and wellness trends that reflect a shift towards holistic wellness and personalized nutrition, and offer opportunities to align with evolving consumer preferences.

Even as economic conditions may pose increasing challenges for health and wellness propositions, consumer attitudes following the Covid-19 pandemic are shifting towards prioritizing healthier dietary choices.

The concept of “food as medicine” is a significant driver behind the continued growth in health and wellness sales, helping to mitigate some of the economic pressures worldwide. This phenomenon underlies the rise of various health and wellness trends discussed below. Here are a few underlying, tectonic movements in health and wellness.

Plant-Powered Innovation

The transition from animal-based to plant-based alternatives represents a significant transformation in the food industry. Consumers are increasingly seeking alternatives to dairy products across various dairy categories, including ice cream and chocolate confectionery. Additionally, there is a growing demand for substitutes to meat and seafood in processed meat/seafood products and meals. Furthermore, there is a rising interest in replacing other animal-based ingredients, such as gelatin, in certain products like jellies.

‘Vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ claims will particularly benefit, as compelling marketing positionings with both health and sustainability credentials. Additionally, ‘vegetarian’, ‘dairy-free’ and ‘meat-free’ will also do well. The next steps for plant-based products are to stand out against the competition, to tackle the negative association with ultra-processing by using simpler recipes and a clean label, and to pair up with other compelling health claims. An example of brand distancing themselves from the negative food processing connotations is Oatly, with Super Basic in the UK being launched at the start of this year.

Sugar Avoidance in Food Products

The pressures onreducing / avoiding sugar content are twofold – consumer-led and regulatory. And sugar avoidance is not just key to ‘indulgent’ categories like sweet snacks, cakes and pastries; it’s relevant to flavoured yoghurt and desserts, breakfast cereals, jams, sauces, to name just a few categories. ‘Low sugar’ and ‘no sugar’, as the more commonly found labels on the market, should expand further but ‘no added sugar’, which also signifies “natural” in consumers’ minds, is on an even faster track.

Indulgence needs to continue to be re-invented using texture complexity, shape, size, colour. Crucially, avoiding sugar means that sweetness can be made less addictive. Sugar can be substituted with a more natural source of stress relief, which avoids perpetuating the problems around obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.

There are a growing number of options at the disposal of brand owners for substituting sugar. An example is Barry Callebaut releasing 100% pure cacaofruit powder in 2023 as alternative ingredient solution. Here again, marrying a better-for-you claim on sugar avoidance with other sought-after health claims will also be key to being perceived as truly functional in consumers’ eyes. In the US, Ready. Set. Food! Organic Puffs was introduced in the aisles in 2023. For this product, aiming to introduce children to the most common allergens, mouthfeel experience is enhanced through texture. The no- added sugar claim complements a premium positioning for this snack.

Resourcefulness of the Protein

There’s growing awareness, particularly among mature markets, around what proteins in general can do for you: From the common associations with satiety and muscle building to immune support, digestive health but also mood/relaxation.

Whether it is animal or plant-based, protein-centred product positionings will maintain much of their growth momentum as more of the protein’s multiple health properties are gradually known to consumers and of interest.

The plant-based trend doesn’t mean the end of the animal-based protein. It’s still quite major in consumers’ minds in many countries such as Argentina where meat remains central to people’s diets and China where dairy products themselves have a strong health halo. In plant-based innovation, protein density will be more in focus to better level up with animal-based varieties with a protein-centred positioning.

Seeing the nutrient appear prominently on the pack will also be a key differentiator in categories such as crisps where the nutrient will convey functionality, or juice and sports drinks which will gain a more nutritious profile. 2023 saw the launch of Nano Supps Protein Chips in Hungary; suggesting a healthy and nutritious snack and targeting young adults with a modern look.

Gut Health

There’s increasing knowledge around the benefits of gut health and its links to the microbiome and to the brain. Cultured foods are one way to create a particularly gut-friendly product, and it’s no longer exclusively the remits of a few categories like yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables or bread.

Cultured foods are seen as “naturally functional”: probiotics continue to penetrate snacks, whilst fermentation is more widely explored across the food spectrum. Key claims benefiting from this trend include ‘digestive health’ and ‘immune support’ which are fast-growing. But ‘gluten free’, ‘high fibre’ and ‘probiotic’ are also promising. Spanish start-up MIM Habits has developed a post-biotic bread that offers variants targeting stress, immunity, bowel transit and hypertension.

In parallel to these major shifts in health and wellness, there are also trends that are seeing a sharp acceleration. Two of the most exciting trends certainly include:

Cognitive and Mental Health

While there may be increasing consumer acceptance for it in Asia at present, the momentum for advancements in cognitive and mental health remains robust. Food and drinks are set to gain a greater role in supporting brain capabilities and emotional health. Snacks, energy drinks, tea, present some of the biggest opportunities for this type of positioning, but we can also see this appearing in other categories like soups.

As emerging trends continue to evolve, there is a significant demand for precise segmentation and targeted marketing strategies. This includes communicating distinct benefits, like “focus” and “calm,” and highlighting key ingredients such as lutein and ginseng. Additionally, suggesting specific occasions, such as exams or long workdays, and segmenting consumer groups, such as young gamers seeking focus or elderly individuals aiming to boost memory, are essential aspects of effective marketing.

In addition to protein and fiber, notable beneficial components that can be featured on the label include antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. In 2023, Core Foods launched the Core Bar in the US, a refrigerated snack bar marketed for its stress-relieving properties, utilizing oats and adaptogens. Notably, the bar is sugar-free and provides 6 grams of fiber.

Women’s Health

Another fast growing area of interest for innovation iswomen’s health. As consumers increasingly view food and beverages as tools for maintaining or enhancing their health, heightened awareness regarding products tailored to women’s health presents significant opportunities.

Brand owners can glean valuable insights from the realm of vitamins and supplements on effectively catering to women’s biological life stages, while also considering the merits of providing solutions that address both physical and mental well-being. There is notable interest in Asia regarding opportunities in women’s health initiatives.

The author is Industry Manager at Euromonitor International.

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