Shifting from weight management to wellness

by Keith Nunes
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Lean Cuisine will now focus on culinary trends and offerings that are gluten-free and free of preservatives.

Consumers are thinking less about weight management and more about wellness these days. The result is both food and beverage manufacturers and retailers are reconsidering how they present products to the market.

Consider the Kellogg Co.’s Special K brand, for example. The company is in the midst of a dramatic shift in the iconic brand’s position in the marketplace.

“We are on the journey from diet to wellness, from an absence of negatives, less calories, to more bang for the calories I consume,” said Paul Norman, chief growth officer for the Kellogg Co., this past February during a presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference. “We have work going on with our foods around the world to renovate and innovate the brand to be more salient with the needs of our consumers moving forward.”

Kellogg has launched a new gluten-free variety of Special K in the United States, and in the second quarter of fiscal 2015 the company will renovate its Special K Red Berries variety to include more fruit. Mr. Norman said the biggest driver of purchasing intent that Kellogg can go after on Red Berries is to “sell more of the food,” and it intends to do just that.

“You think about Special K in the U.S. over the last 5 to 10 years, we have spent $7 out of $10 we spend on the brand selling diet plans, losing 6 lbs in two weeks, challenging you to lose weight,” Mr. Norman said. “From now on those dollars, and $8 out of $10 of those dollars, will go against selling the food, selling the taste of our food, selling what is in our food and selling why our food is good. So a big focus back on investing in the food, selling the food.”

Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, is following a similar process with its Lean Cuisine brand of frozen entrees. In a Feb. 19 earnings conference call Paul Bulcke, chief executive officer of Nestle, said the company will be making changes to its frozen products portfolio throughout the year.

“The category has decreased over the last years 2% to 3% every year,” Mr. Bulcke said. “Why? Because the consumer has changed, also the expectations that was not given through that category.”

The company is repositioning its long-struggling Lean Cuisine business to align with new consumer perceptions of health, including gluten-free, high protein and simple ingredients.

“We’re seeing that whole lean market, not only in frozen, in general is challenged,” Mr. Bulcke said. “People don’t want to go only for diet. They want to go for healthy lifestyles, and that’s where Lean Cuisine has to move into and is moving into.”

Changes to the Lean Cuisine brand will include a focus on culinary trends with such flavors as ranchero braised beef, which is gluten-free and contains no preservatives. From the Stouffer’s brand will come a new line of entrees called Fit Kitchen, with such products as cilantro lime chicken containing 25 grams of protein.

Rethinking weight loss

Conventional tactics for weight loss are losing ground among the 100 million Americans dieting to lose or maintain weight, according to market researcher Packaged Facts. Consumers are forgoing formal diet plans and using mobile platforms to privately monitor fitness and food intake.

Additionally, the market research firm said shoppers are buying fewer reduced-fat foods. Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of individuals trying to lose weight by eating low-fat or fat-free foods dropped to 49% from 58%, and the percentage of those maintaining weight by eating these types of products decreased to 49% from 54%.

Packaged Facts also noted a shift from weight-loss plans to weight-maintenance plans. Although the number of people who are 30 or more pounds overweight and on a weight-loss diet has grown from 16 million to nearly 18 million over the past five years, according to Simmons National Consumer Study data, those who are not significantly overweight would rather avoid weight gain than struggle to slim down. The number of weight maintainers increased 12.8% between 2009 and 2014, nearly twice as fast as the growth in the population of those trying to lose weight.

Driving the shift from weight loss to weight maintenance is a growing number of men interested in sustaining a healthier shape. Men have accounted for two-thirds of the growth in the population of “maintainers” over the past five years, Packaged Facts said. Another factor may be a decrease in cultural bias against being a few pounds heavy.

“In the end, since health considerations are the main purpose of the weight management efforts of a majority of people, the unachievable quest to drop a few more ‘vanity pounds’ in order to achieve an idealized body image may be on its way out as a cultural reference point,” Packaged Facts said.

Retailers are reacting to the changes

The marketing of health and wellness is shifting away from a focus on specific conditions and toward lifestyles and the presentation of the products as an alternative to traditional products, according to the Food Marketing Institute’s “Food retailer contributions to health and wellness” report that was released March 10.

The report was derived from a survey of executives with 29 retail chains who represent approximately 6,800 stores in the United States.

“Over the past year, there has been a shift in the strategies retailers use to help consumers identify healthy products,” the report said. “Specifically, there has been a significant increase in identifying wellness products by lifestyle (i.e., vegan, kosher, etc…). At the same time, there has been a significant decrease in identifying products according to the health conditions they benefit (i.e. gluten intolerance, diabetes, etc…). However, directly placing alternative healthful products next to original versions (i.e., low-sodium, fat-free, etc…) continues to be a growing strategy.”

The F.M.I. report further noted that 95% of the retailers now employ dietitians at the corporate, regional and store levels.

“Interestingly, there has been a shift between 2014 and 2013 in how in-store health professionals are following up with customers after they participate in a store nutrition program,” the report said. “Specifically, recommendations have doubled for encouragement to get a health screening at the pharmacy or in-store clinic.”

Cathy Polley, executive director of the F.M.I. Foundation and vice-president of health and wellness at the association, said she is seeing more coordination among food retailers and the health care category.

“I’m witnessing a stronger culinary focus among our members,” she said. “Notably, more than half of the food retailers in this survey employed chefs at the corporate level, many offering cooking classes focused on diabetes, weight management and simple family meals.

“Beyond classes and recipes cited in the survey, food retailers are aware of the numerous studies that cite the benefits of families eating together more often. In 2014, they clearly embraced this concept with 84% saying they are actively promoting communal eating, such as family meals.”

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