NEW YORK — Two out of three Americans are paying extra attention to the ingredients in the food and beverage products they consume, according to new research from Nielsen. In the United States, volume sales of gluten- and grain-free products increased 75.7% and 9.5%, respectively, and sales of products with a nut-free claim grew 15.2% in the past year. Meanwhile, lactose-free and reduced-lactose products climbed 4.8%.
But among global consumers with a food sensitivity or following a special diet, fewer than half believe current product offerings are meeting their needs, Nielsen said.
|Andrew Mandzy, director of strategic insights at Nielsen|
“Consumers want to eat in ways that address real dietary concerns, but they can’t do it alone,” said Andrew Mandzy, director of strategic insights at Nielsen. “They need help from food manufacturers to offer products formulated with an eye towards food sensitivities and other specialized diets, and they need help from retailers to stock shelves with a proper assortment of foods that cater to a wider variety of consumer needs.”
Driving the trend toward specialized diets is an increase in food sensitivities, with 36% of global survey respondents indicating they or someone in their household have a food allergy or intolerance. Another factor is regional dietary preferences; for example, North American consumers are more likely to avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium, while consumers in Asia-Pacific are more inclined to follow a vegetarian diet, Nielsen said.
And then there’s the back-to-basics mindset driving more and more consumers to seek products with simple ingredients and minimal processing. Just over half of Americans try to avoid bioengineered ingredients, and 50% avoid artificial colors. Nearly half of U.S. consumers strive to include organic ingredients, and 60% actively make dietary choices to help prevent negative health outcomes, such as obesity or diabetes.
“This is a significant opportunity for food retailers and manufacturers, but even within individual markets, health and wellness is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Mr. Mandzy said. “Retailers and manufacturers need to identify high-potential segments and the drivers of engagement for these consumers and, then tailor their messages and products accordingly.”
In the report, Nielsen offered four takeaways for manufacturers to remember when navigating the health and wellness landscape:
First, keep it simple. Companies should review product portfolios for opportunities to remove or replace unwanted ingredients, such as artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners; antibiotics; bioengineered ingredients; and packaging made with Bisphenol A (B.P.A.).
“Manufacturers that have taken these steps should highlight them prominently in their marketing campaigns,” Nielsen said. “In addition, they should look for opportunities to leverage powerful brand names through line extensions, creating organic and natural alternatives to their existing product lines.”
Second, innovate, invest and acquire. New product development remains a critical strategy and may include creating a new version of a traditional favorite with alternative ingredients or developing products with an entirely new taste experience.
“But savvy manufacturers aren’t going it alone when it comes to product development,” Nielsen said. “Some have started venture capital funds to identify up-and-coming brands, while others are acquiring disruptive brands with strong growth potential.”
Third, prioritize convenience, cost and taste. These attributes remain important in driving purchasing decisions, and manufacturers should look for ways to help busy consumers make healthier choices without sacrifice.
Fourth, don’t forget indulgence. Consumers still seek indulgent options, but they want to feel good about what they eat.
“While many consumers are taking steps to opt for better-for-you food choices, they still want to treat themselves,” Mr. Mandzy said. “Increasingly, however, they’re indulging smarter, particularly when it comes to the treats they’re consuming on a regular basis. Manufacturers that innovate by incorporating ingredients and preparation methods that improve the nutritional profile of their product portfolio will be strongly positioned to succeed.”
Meanwhile, retailers may consider offering health-related services, such as a clinic or pharmacy, to serve as a one-stop shop for consumers’ health needs. Another tactic is training associates to be more knowledgeable about healthful products or hiring in-store dietitians to assist shoppers in making smart choices. Understanding how older consumers and those with ailments shop across the store and developing strategies to market to them and optimize the assortment is also a key strategy.“Savvy retailers aren’t focused on a single category or a single department; they recognize that health and wellness matters across the entire store, and they carry an array of healthful options across categories and departments because they know that sales in one category (e.g., organic bread) can drive the sale of related products (e.g., natural peanut butter),” Nielsen said.