Consumers’ health is front and center for those who churn out the food products that will line supermarket shelves in the next year. At Campbell’s, organic and all natural are the buzzwords as the company prepares to launch a variety of soups using USDA-certified organic ingredients and shelf-stable fruit and vegetable juices with no added sugar or artificial ingredients. At the 2015 Consumer Analyst Group of NY conference this week, many of the major food industry representatives echoed the health theme. Executives from Mondelez, for example, spoke about their recent acquisition of healthy lifestyle brand Enjoy Life Foods (which includes products for consumers who have allergies or want gluten-free and non-GMO fare), citing 30% growth of the US allergen-free segment. General Mills execs are betting on gluten-free, too: They cite the category as a bright spot with an estimated $8.8 billion in US retail sales in 2014 with predicted growth of $10.6 billion in 2015. The company is launching varieties of gluten-free Cheerios this July.
Global sales of healthy food products, in fact, are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2017, according to Euromonitor. While the health fads and trends have come and gone (remember oat bran in the 1980s or low-fat everything in the 1990s?), this time the category appears to have serious stamina. Consider Nielsen’s 2015 Global Health & Wellness Survey that polled over 30,000 individuals online and suggests consumer mindset about healthy foods has shifted and they are ready to pay more for products that claim to boost health and weight loss.
Some 88% of those polled are willing to pay more for healthier foods.
All demographics—from Generation Z to Baby Boomers–say they would pay more for healthy foods, including those that are GMO-free, have no artificial coloring/flavors and are deemed all natural.
Functional foods—including foods high in fiber (36%), protein (32%), whole grains (30%) or fortified with calcium (30%), vitamins (30%) or minerals (29%)–that can either reduce disease and/or promote good health also are desirable.
So what triggered the shift? James Russo, SVP, Global Consumer Insights at Nielsen offers perspective. “While economic concerns remain in the forefront for consumers, health and wellness concerns continue to increase in importance. The reasons vary from societal, demographic, technological, governmental and, most importantly, a shift in consumer focus on the role diet plays in health.
“In fact, as consumers take more responsibility for their health food as medicine is becoming increasingly dynamic.”
This idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain growing consumer interest in fresh, natural and organic products. Russo also suggests that consumers understand a food’s nutritional value (in helping to lower blood pressure, for example), as well as overall health risk. Some of this response is partially rooted in growing corporate transparency about a product’s health benefits. Yet Russo cautions that consumers are skeptical when it comes to food manufacturers’ claims. “The claim has to be credible. A food high in sodium that promotes itself as rich in whole grains won’t work. Consumers are very savvy.”
While the food giants are taking big bets on health, the survey also points to something countless marketers already know: Consumers can be fickle. “There’s always a bit of a disconnect with consumers. As it relates to diet, however, there is an aspirational component, and that’s consistent. But there’s a balance, too.” In other words, they want healthy and indulgent products. So large fries and diet soda will probably still be on the menu.