This year marks my 15th consecutive IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo®. In my perspective, the show has aged much better than I have, and has evolved into a venue for continuing education in all areas of food science. The most noticeable change on the show floor is how exhibitors invest more in presenting innovative product concepts and product development themes rather than passing out pens and samples of ingredients.
Results from a new study-The National Study of Public Attitudes and Actions Toward Shopping and Eating-published by HealthFocus International, St. Petersburg, Fla., indicate that even though more shoppers describe themselves as overweight, fewer are dieting to lose weight. One of the reasons people may be more comfortable with excess weight is because of an evolving trend that shows consumers are moving away from defining "health" based on only physical parameters, but rather overall "wellness." Consumers indicate that wellness is related to, but distinct from health. Wellness is about physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual well being. Nutrition is only one part of wellness and consumers feel that "balance" is key, not just in diet but in life overall.
Recently, the Chicago Tribune noted that Hollywood celebrity Nicole Richie, whose drastic weight loss spawned speculation that she has an eating disorder, acknowledges she is "too thin" and is getting treatment to add pounds. She was actually quoted in the June Vanity Fair as saying, "I know I'm too thin right now, so I wouldn't want any young girl looking at me and saying, ‘That's what I want to look like.'"
"This simplification of ‘Wellness' to the ‘Power to Be Happy' is part of a larger social trend to embrace personal pleasures and comforting values," says Barbara Katz, gen. mgr. of HealthFocus. "Consumers anticipate that being happy makes them healthier, and that when they take better care of their health, they are better able to be happy."
So what does that mean for companies when they are marketing or developing healthy products and communicating their benefits? HealthFocus advises that companies need to speak to weight loss as a means of managing the "consequences" of being overweight. These "consequences" could be social, health related, financial or as simple as realizing the positive results of losing weight. For instance, communicating that a product can help manage tiredness or can help achieve benefits such as increased energy, are stronger messages than the promise of "losing pounds."
"Manufacturers must also realize that consumers today feel a strong sense of entitlement. They want great taste and better nutrition, luxury and affordability, natural with convenience, and fresh and fast," says Katz. "Companies must make the ‘healthy' choice the irresistible choice rather than the virtuous choice."
So if you're exploring the Expo floor in Orlando this June, take note of the health and wellness innovations. Imagine how the suppliers' prototype can become your branded, irresistible choice. Envision manufacturing the product, and making it convenient, and maybe even tying in portion control for the consumer's sake. Maybe the formulation can be tweaked to appeal to a specific consumer segment, such as baby boomers, who are trying to defy aging by embracing all types of health and wellness products. I look at it this way, if the industry starts working on these products now, they will be available in the next few years . . . just in time for when I fully commit to the power of overall health and wellness in order to age gracefully. After all, in 15 more years I will be . . . 15 years older than I am today.