Wellness driving changes in food consumption

by Editorial Staff
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Food processors and consumers are both providing momentum to the health and wellness trend. Food manufacturers understand how important foods and beverages are to a wellness lifestyle, most notably that they are the first step in wellness adoption, and consumers have been driving profound changes in how today’s food and beverage products are formulated, packaged and sold beneath a halo of health and wellness.

Food is fuel for the physical body or pleasure for the tongue, and consumers reason they are the logical foundation for a wellness lifestyle since nothing else will affect their health as significantly as what they put in their bodies. Over the two decades The Hartman Group has been tracking consumers’ continued trajectory toward greater involvement in health and wellness, we’ve noticed shifts occurring in the American consumer’s food consumption.

In the late 20th century, due to increasing concern with sugary and salty products, consumers understood "quality" foods and beverages largely in terms of the distinction between those considered "nutritious" compared to what they viewed as "junk." In the 1980s, consumers exercised nutrition-based choice over the products they purchased and consumed, resulting in the spate of "low fat," "low sodium," "fat-free," and "sugar-free" options that were introduced to the marketplace.

The late 1990s and the dawning years of the 21st century saw consumers moving away from a general focus on consumers’ need to take back control of their personal health and the health of their families.

Today, we see consumers as engaged in health and wellness, but the overarching objective of participation in moving toward the realization of quality life experiences. And we know that when consumers think about health and wellness, they attribute the greatest effects to what goes in their bodies, on their bodies and around their bodies.

Consumers are looking for two broad categories of benefits from their food: physical and emotional. For the purpose of this column, the focus will be on the physical.

Physically, consumers are seeking foods that offer sound nutrition, with minimal or no negatives. This is why we see in our recent wellness research, 70% of consumers adding fiber to their daily diet (a positive) while avoiding negatives that include cholesterol, trans fats, sodium, preservatives and sugar.

We may consider the desired physical benefits as a function of time. In the short term, consumers typically seek three benefits from foods and beverages: Energy, mental clarity and satiety.

In the long term, consumers want foods and beverages to help them manage weight and prevent illness.

At present, consumers are looking to high fibers in an effort to manage weight long term. To prevent illnesses consumers are seeking sufficient nutrition and by minimizing exposure to attributes considered negative, such as fat, sugar and chemicals.

Foods and beverages consumers consider wellness promoting correlate positively with their understanding of the ingredients and nutrients those foods contain. Specifically, consumers consider some of the most wellness-promoting foods to be brown rice, fruits and vegetables, rye crisp bread, whole grain crackers, and whole wheat bread. The foods all have one nutrient in common — fiber. Consumers also are adding on a daily basis calcium, protein and whole grains.

Foods and beverages will remain the cornerstone of a wellness lifestyle for an ever-growing number of consumers. The consumers undoubtedly will continue to shape and define what "eating better" will mean in terms of new products and ingredients for food manufacturers, marketers and food retailers far into the future.

Laurie Demeritt is president and chief operating officer of The Hartman Group, Inc., a consulting and consumer insights firm specializing in the analysis and interpretation of consumer lifestyles, and how the lifestyles affect the purchase and use of today’s products and services in tomorrow’s marketplace. Laurie may be reached at FBNEditor@sosland.com.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, November 25, 2008, starting on Page 52. Click
here to search that archive.

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