BY CATHERINE ELMS,
SENIOR DIRECTOR, FUTURE THINKING
There is a clear disconnect between consumer perceptions and purchase behaviours when it comes to healthy eating. As we become more health conscious, the demand for healthy food is increasing, yet 69% of us believe it is a more expensive option. So, what steps can producers take to keep healthy eating choices on our tables against the backdrop of rising inflation and stagnating wages, particularly in younger households?
Audiences are more health-conscious and tech-savvy than ever before. Thanks to social media, TV and apps such as MyFitnessPal, it is becoming much easier for consumers to find out the nutritional value of everything they eat. In particular, the group that is most likely to check up on what they are eating is millennials (16-34 year olds).
When it comes to keeping on top of what’s healthy and what’s not, 60% of those surveyed stated that recent media coverage impacted upon their diet and foods they chose. However, a similar study conducted in the US found that eight in ten Americans have seen conflicting messages about what foods to eat and what to avoid. The danger here is consumers feel so bombarded with messages around healthy eating they don’t know what to believe anymore, as any red wine drinker can attest to.
So what’s the solution? As simple as this sounds, the key factor is communicating with consumers concisely and coherently. Clear and accurate information enables us to make informed lifestyle choices, and producers must do everything possible to meet this need.
This approach enables brands to speak directly to the shoppers’ desire to make informed choices on the food they buy. Producers have begun to implement this strategy but much more needs to be done as only around a quarter (27%) of consumers state they’ve eaten more fruit and/or vegetables over the past year as a result of media coverage.
Certain audience segments aim to live particularly healthy lifestyles: in fact nine in ten consumers who purchase ‘free from’ products don’t even have an intolerance. But, overall, we aren’t seeing a greater uptake of healthy eating. While most of us may aspire to eat better, this doesn’t necessarily translate into behaviour change; we’re still just as likely to buy our favourite sweets and other indulgent treats despite being repeatedly told they’re doing us no good.
However, the main reason consumer habits aren’t changing is simply down to the perceived costs of eating healthily. Over half of those surveyed stated that making healthy food cheaper would encourage them to choose it. Although the IMF puts global economic growth on a largely upwards tangent this year, the reality in certain key markets is less positive. Notably, 47% of UK consumers suggest they are feeling the pinch with around 26% actively struggling to make ends meet.
In a space where numerous brands are clamouring for attention across different platforms, the battle for share of mind is ferocious. A strong, well-known brand is not enough anymore and larger brands face off against smaller and artisan competitors as they enter healthy eating categories. As such, it would also be advisable to think pragmatically about which markets are most open to, and can sustain, new products. Healthy eating brands operate on a different level to their peers within the food sector. The current marketing fashion of healthy products focuses on the consumer, rather than the product itself, whereas the marketing of other food groups can translate across a variety of mediums from gimmicks to memes and collectables.
As the pace of life seems to grow ever faster, and despite all the information out there, consumers only have limited time to make decisions on their food choices. In fact, it’s millennials that feel this time pressure the most, with 62% suggesting there aren’t enough hours in the day! This means brands have an extremely narrow window of opportunity to communicate health benefits and aligned messages.
Brands must therefore understand exactly why consumers buy their products, and what they want from the brand itself. Core messaging needs to be evident across a series of aligned touchpoints if it is to resonate and ultimately drive sales. A strong sense of identity, via credible and consistent brand messaging, is key to achieving emotional acceptance and ultimately driving brand success.
Connected lifestyles generate vast amounts of data to transform into insight on the habits and behaviours of existing and potential customers. As perceptions of healthy eating change, this data must inform brands’ messaging strategies. It is only by understanding the opportunities and the barriers to healthy eating that strategies can be developed to ensure healthier options will remain on the menu.
Figures are based on The Grocery Eye, an annual online study by Future Thinking that examines the shopping habits of 2,000 supermarket shoppers to identify attitudes and behaviours towards purchasing food and drink.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019