At The Hartman Group’s A.C.T. (Anthropology. Culture. Trends.) Health & Wellness Now—and Next 2015 symposium in Seattle this past September 24, professionals and practitioners from across a broad spectrum of the food and beverage industry gathered for a one-day immersive learning experience into the cultural factors and trends transforming the food and beverage marketplace. Hartman Group analysts and executives provided diverse insights into a variety of topics ranging from how progressive consumers are redefining health and the emerging influence of Gen Z to lessons from brand disruptors in the health and wellness food and beverage market.
In her opening remarks, Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt highlighted The Hartman Group’s more than two decades of work documenting and tracking the consumer journey in health and wellness. “About 25 years ago, most consumers and companies were looking to solve primarily baseline health and wellness conditions or find new approaches to them,” Demeritt said. “And those goals fell into one of two buckets. The first bucket was health condition management, and consumers were looking for food and beverage products that would help them treat or prevent specific conditions. The second bucket was around weight management. At the time, consumers were very much in a reactive mode to their approach.”
As the event unfolded, attendees learned about how today’s consumers are very much proactive—and even progressive—in their approach to health and wellness. Provided here are key highlights from the day’s presentations:
Progressive health and wellness consumers are increasingly influential in redefining food culture: While they may be a minority group in terms of overall numbers, the influence progressive wellness consumers have over food culture is disproportionate. Progressive wellness consumers are paving the way, sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge with mainstream consumers who are hungry for guidance and direction. As shoppers, progressives are no longer thinking about condition management (lowering cholesterol or blood pressure) or dieting (low fat, low carb) but are focused on real quality food, positive nutrition, fresh, less processed foods and beverages and fun. From a purchase and use perspective, this means moving away from products that are fat-free, diet products and 100-calorie portion packs to kale, dark chocolate and quality fats, such as found in nuts, avocados and butter.
The “new healthy” is a consumer journey of contradiction and discovery: Progressive health and wellness consumers are seeking alternatives to fear-based information, a phenomenon that has been driving wellness views for decades. Food is the most important cultural manifestation that we have because we have to eat. Two modern approaches to eating that progressive consumers are utilizing to stack the deck for optimal results are plant-based and paleo diets. Such eating styles signal the fact that how we think about and understand nutrition and our bodies is changing. Each eating style differs, and yet ultimately both are all about wellness and human performance.
Health, wellness and sustainability are starting to converge at the most progressive food retail and food service outlets: Consumers see the convergence as being all about mindfulness, integrity and authenticity. Food-forward startups in QSR and fast casual restaurant segments like Epic Burger consider their approach to be more mindful in terms of ingredients, menu and experience, attributes consumers are increasingly seeking in food service. In a related cultural context, we are rethinking production as craft, not industry. Local grain economies have become less commoditized, and from bread to beer, the modern grain economy is about connectedness and building a community food system through flavor.
Gen Z is already exerting its influence on the marketplace—and some haven’t even been born yet: Gen Z already makes up 23 percent of the U.S. population. This generation moves seamlessly between digital behaviors and real life. They are already highly proactive participants in health and wellness: Gen Z knows a lot (or think they do), and they think a lot about being ‘balanced.’ More so than any other generation, Gen Z looks to exercise as a way to treat or prevent illness, and it is particularly relevant for emotional and stress-related issues. For Gen Z, technology is fun, entertaining and useful. These young consumers are learning about what is healthy from their parents and from school. They are engaging with technology across all parts of everyday life. Outside of direct family, Gen Z is more likely than all other generations to look to their online social networks for advice on health and wellness.
Energy is a key component of contemporary health and wellness lifestyles across all consumer age groups: Conceptually, energy is almost as important as concerns over weight management and physical fitness. This rise in importance is a change from the past. For the majority of consumers, the very definition of health and wellness is having the energy to live an active life. Almost a third of consumers view their energy levels as urgently needing improvement – this is surpassed in importance only by thoughts about getting fit and losing weight. Consumers see energy management as a balancing act that affects all other aspects of wellness. They take this balance into account in their health and wellness habits and purchasing, including of foods and beverages. All consumers acknowledge an implicit connection between energy and what they eat. The understanding of gut-brain connections will become more sophisticated as trends emanate outward from progressive consumers.
Activating health and wellness at retail and in food service means more than mere execution; it involves “strategic choices”: In food service it’s important to understand that cuisines are among shortcuts consumers use to navigate health and wellness goals while eating out. For example, Asian cuisines, especially sushi, are shortcuts to a perceived healthy meal out. Many consumers develop rules relating to “balancing choices” to help guide menu choices when eating out. They work to balance indulgent favorites with healthy choices, such as salad instead of fries with a burger or skipping dessert after an indulgent entrée. At food retail, customization is important to shoppers; for example, grocery food bars offering inexpensive, freshly made meals that can be personalized can assist in health and wellness goals. Applying curation, grocers can offer meal kits, which reduce the work of choice making, to facilitate meal-prep at home. Similarly, supermarkets can advocate for shoppers, pare down products on purpose and reduce the need to shop with “guards up.”
Consumers managing diabetes look to food and beverage for solutions. In the U.S., a new case of diabetes is diagnosed every 30 seconds; more than 1.9 million people are diagnosed each year. Those managing diabetes are preventing or treating 14 health conditions, which is nearly double (8 health conditions) those not managing diabetes. Incidence of diabetes is growing because of increased rates of obesity, larger food portions, greater total dietary intake and individuals using less energy. Half of all consumers say they use foods and beverages to directly address diabetes issues. Consumers managing diabetes say they are seeking whole food solutions: whole grains and fiber are sought by two-thirds of consumers managing diabetes. Consumers are avoiding ingredients such as sweeteners, sodium, trans fat and cholesterol. Partly because of the higher likelihood of managing comorbidities such as hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular disease, eating and drinking pose significant challenges when managing diabetes, since sugar and carbohydrates are ubiquitous in many foods. Yet foods and beverages pose great opportunities for helping consumers.
Marketers can learn a lot from disruptive health and wellness brands. Speed in the marketplace isn’t everything when it comes to winning as a disruptive health and wellness food and beverage brand. Real success stories in emerging health and wellness brands tap into emerging consumer trends and nearly always start small and build momentum gradually. Most new product stories in health and wellness brands come from smaller, more entrepreneurial companies that are looking at where food culture is headed, not where it is right now. New benefits are harder to mainstream quickly than new ingredients. Brands built on emerging benefits have the longest-term potential for scale. The more disruptive the brand is, the longer the wait is to achieve scale and returns, but the larger the final prize will be.
Progressive consumers are a window on to the future of health and wellness. We anticipate there will be clearer labeling of food and beverage production methods as well as provenance and nutrition, making us all savvy consumers. It will likely be mandatory to disclose how something is grown and whether anything is added to that process, such as pesticides, as well as the potential impact they may have on human health. Like it or not, GMO crops are expected to be taken to new levels beyond the current focus of technology to intensify production. With this, we can expect biodynamic farming to become more prominent in the coming years. Through exposure to the environmental impacts of both industrial and sustainable farming methods, we expect consumers will be more inclined to make significant changes to their lifestyles, with a focus on more sustainable diets. We anticipate that a more sophisticated understanding of digestion and inflammation will spread to the mainstream. Visionary food companies will develop a passion for food culture and will understand the progressive health and wellness consumer so they can authentically speak to mainstream consumer aspirations.