Health and wellbeing is never far from the minds of consumers and media and the papers remain full of health related headlines, many of which are based on research that may have the ability to change opinion and perhaps even policy.

To help you wade through all this news and opinion, we have created an overview of some of the hottest topics currently circulating.

Consumer trends in health

The Healthy Marketing Team offers strategic direction for brands specialising in food and health. On 5th December 2013 their president, Peter Wennstrom, presented a “State of the European Consumer Market for Health” at the Federation of European Specialty Food Ingredients Industries at their 30th Year Anniversary Symposium in Brussels.

Following this, the president concluded that the notable health trends effecting consumers and policy are:

Consumers distrust processed food

What is hidden is not trusted. The need for some manufactures to keep costs low means nutritional quality is slipping and as a consequence so is consumer trust. Indeed a Health Focus Global Survey found that 49% of consumers are concerned about processed food not being healthy.

We’re at the start of the natural foods era

The consumer wants the food they eat to be natural, local and simple and to be produced as if we had cooked them in our home kitchen. This is highlighted by the Health Focus Global Survey finding that 23% and 47% of consumers are willing to pay more for organic food and ‘natural’ food respectively.

Consumers are turning their back on heath claims

47% of UK consumers don’t believe many of the health claims made on food packages and 30% don’t understand health claims. Worryingly and perhaps a sign of the increasing plethora of companies using food claims to try and reel in consumers, UK consumers are 5% more confused about food claims now then they were in 2008.

Education based strategies is the only way forward

Both society and companies must educate consumers about the relationship between food choices and health and that education starts by learning about consumers and their different attitudes to food and health.

The above highlights that whilst health is at the top of consumers’ agenda they are also increasingly confused about the messaging being aimed at them, which is beginning to affect their buying habits. It is important for brands to therefore consider not just displaying health messages but also explaining how they relate to the consumer. It is also important to reassure and educate consumer that health claims are regulated under EU law – understanding this will hopefully be a way of increasing trust.


Should we be eating 7+ a day?

Research published 31st March 2014 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggested that eating at least seven daily portions of fruit and vegetables may confer the best chance of staving off life-threatening diseases. This got mass media pick up and again highlights how health remains at the top of consumers’ priorities.

The Science Media Centre, an independent press office that ensures the public have access to the science behind the headlines of key nutrition related media stories, compiled a comprehensive summary about the research from eleven leading medical professionals. The article was extensive but key points of interest that materialised were:

  • Currently fewer than a third of the UK population manage to reach their 5-a-day so increasing the target to 7-a-day would be un-realistic for many
  • Consideration should be given to whether fruit juice, tinned fruit, frozen fruit and smoothies should be considered as one of our 5-a-day

If these and similar findings do end up leading to changes in policy then this will obviously have big implications for many brands that, for example, use ‘contains one of your 5-a-day’ as part of their marketing weaponry.


Shoppers scared off by hybrid label red lights

In June 2013, following consultations with food businesses, NGOs and academics, the Department of Health released new voluntary guidelines for creating standardised front-of-pack labelling. Under this system a consistent traffic-light coding system is used on front of packaging to determine the nutritional value of food portions, in conjunction with the percentage contribution a typical serving makes to the Reference Intakes (RIs).

However, according to a large survey carried out by You Gov for the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), shoppers are becoming increasingly confused by the new system. For example, 37% of those surveyed said they thought they should only consume one product a day that featured a red light and 67% thought they should avoid a product if it featured predominantly red lights.

This might be felt by some to be a sign of success, however it was never the intention of the government to encourage consumers to eliminate these foods all together. Indeed, many foods that would carry red labels, including cheese and full fat milk, offer great health benefits for much of the population, especially when eaten in the correct quantities.

This once again highlights how important educating the consumer is and as a leading retail executive responding to the CIM survey said, “There is no point labelling products to the extreme when consumers don’t understand why a balanced diet combined with controlled portion sizes is important”.


Sat fat report could torpedo years of industry work

Surprising revelations from a report carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge on behalf of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) have thrown into question many of the core messages that the BHF have stood by for the last few years.

The study reported that swapping saturated fats in products such as dairy foods for unsaturated fats had no impact on reducing the risk of heart disease and have called for large scale clinical studies to further investigate their findings, based on meta-analysis of 72 separate studies.

Publishing these findings is a brave move for the BHF who have been instrumental in encouraging consumers to switch from saturated fat to unsaturated fats where possible. Indeed the BHF’s claim that reducing intake could save 2,600 premature deaths a year was used as the basis for a Responsibility Deal pledge last year to remove 10,000tonnes of saturated fat from food products across the UK.

The BHF’s Associate Medical Director, issued a statement to say that the research, “suggests there isn’t enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of CHD”. However, he goes on to say that further research is needed before any major changes are made to current recommendations.

Clearly, it will be fascinating to keep a track of any future research findings as if results continue to head this way then this could mark one of the biggest shifts in health advice seen for many years.


The juice sector is in for a tough ride

With sugar and its perceived perils still dominating the headlines, the fate of the newly demonised fruit juice hangs in the balance. Indeed, volume sales have fallen for two years in a row and the continuing negative headlines will do little to curb this trend.

Whether rightly or wrongly, companies are reacting quickly to the statistics, with Waitrose delisting more than two thirds of its Tropicana lines as well as bringing out their own-label products that promise to be lower in sugar. The addition of juices from Waitrose that include apple, kale and lime also highlight that consumers still have interest in products that have perceived health benefits in the form of ‘superfood’ ingredients.

These headlines highlight how powerful the media is in dictating supply and demand and irrespective of the merits of the arguments, the impact on consumer choice is not something the industry can afford to ignore.

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