Health and wellness as preventive medicine

by Allison Sebolt
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Shelley Balanko, senior director of ethnographic research for The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., summarizes much of the current trend in health and wellness in one word — real.

"We really see a trend toward real," Ms. Balanko said. "It’s about real food, it’s about fresh food, it’s about authentic products. (Consumers) are not looking for things overly engineered or too scientific. They are just looking for products that are authentic, meaning they are as they should be."

Ms. Balanko also noted there has been a shift in recent years from control, condition management and illness prevention being the main drivers of health and wellness to an overall desire to live the best life possible driving the health trend.

"The trend in health and wellness used to be driven by condition management, and now it’s really about a quest for a quality of life," Ms. Balanko said. "It’s being able to do more things and really enjoy them and not be limited in one lifestyle in any way.

"It’s much more of a preventive attitude than a reactive condition management focus, which was characteristic of years past. Really, the overarching motivation is seeking quality life experiences."

As a part of this, Ms. Balanko said consumers are taking a much more holistic approach to health and wellness.

The Hartman Group said the overall desire to seek "quality life experiences" also may be summed up as a quest by consumers to live "the good life." The group said this sort of lifestyle generally has been associated with aging consumers who are facing retirement and are focused on having enough money to be financially sound and free from worries during the golden years. Many consumers also used to believe this was something only the well-off could attain.

Yet in its "Wellness Lifestyle Insights 2007" study, The Hartman Group found the concept of "the good life" has shifted away from monetary implications to include a more holistic view of health and wellness. It has now come to mean simply enjoying life today and tomorrow and being free from illness.

Barbara Katz, president of Health-Focus International, St. Petersburg, Fla., echoed this idea, saying there is a trend toward consumer control or the attitude of "I can be a part of my own destiny."

"It’s a complete picture," Ms. Katz said. "It’s a total dietary picture they are looking at."

Ms. Katz also said consumers are increasingly aware of how they may be able to shape their environment.

"It’s more and more about quality, about fun and having a more holistic outlook about what are all the aspects of health and wellness," Ms. Balanko said. "For many years, North American consumers had really thought about it just as the physical body. That will always be part of it, but I think consumers are getting it more and more that there is a mind, body, spirit connection and also the connection to the planet. I really see sustainability as becoming more and more a part of people’s health and wellness picture."

The Hartman Group said physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, balance, simplicity, fitness, social/community and environmental are all aspects of life included in consumer’s health and wellness realm.

Ms. Katz also noted many areas of specific interest in health and wellness are generational. She said the generation of consumers between ages 18 to 29 is extremely interested in specific areas of health and wellness, including sustainability, organics and private label.

"What will be really interesting to watch going forward will be whether they drive those trends into the future … this is an age group that spends a lot of time thinking," Ms. Katz said. "There is sort of a redefinition of life for them."

With this trend has come a growth in fair trade products. According to Mintel, Chicago, the number of products introduced with fair trade positioning grew from a 18 in 1999 to 722 in 2007. There are also web sites and resources such as that allow

consumers to calculate their own carbon footprint.

As a counter force to this sustainability trend, the National Marketing Institute said in a presentation at the All Things Organic show in Chicago in April that some consumers are becoming overwhelmed with sustainability initiatives and there is a "green-washing" fall-out expected as consumers learn the true meaning and impact of sustainability.

Consumer addition and subtraction

Ms. Katz said a huge motivating factor driving health and wellness is a desire for freshness and local foods. She said there is dual trend going on between functionality and freshness.

In addition, she said people are often looking for "positive" nutrition or things people may add to their diet such as whole grains or omega-3 fatty acids. She said it’s easier to add things to a diet than to take them out. Health-Focus also said in its "HealthFocus Trend Report" that 44% of consumers in 2006 said they had increased their fiber intake during the previous two years, up from 32% in 2004, and 33% said they had increased their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, up from 23% in 2004.

But "negative" nutrition is still a factor as consumers also said they are working to decrease consumption of sugar, salt and foods containing additives and preservatives. Specifically, 42% of consumers said they decreased their intake of sugar along with 37% cutting salt and another 37% cutting additives and preservatives, HealthFocus said.

"A generation ago it was about subtracting bad things from your diet, but today healthy eating is more a matter of addition and subtraction," said Harry Balzer, vice-president of The NPD Group.

The NPD Group, Rosemont, Ill., said the per cent of adults on a diet has decreased by 10 percentage points since 1990 while the percentage of Americans eating healthier has increased. NPD noted that 70% of Americans are eating reduced-fat foods, with more than half eating reduced calorie, whole grain or fortified foods. Other "better-for-you" foods included diet, light, reduced-cholesterol, reduced-sodium, caffeine free, sugar free, fortified, organic and low-carbohydrate varieties. The average American eats two "better-for-you" products a day.

"While dieting for both men and women remain huge markets, they are not growing trends," Mr. Balzer said. "The desire to lose weight really was a 90s trend. Today consumers appear to be making healthier choices."

HealthFocus also said consumers choose foods and beverages for performance reasons. Thirty-one per cent of consumers choose foods and beverages to improve mental performance, and 30% of consumers choose foods and beverages to improve overall daily performance. In addition, while the trend is toward overall health, significant percentages of consumers reported they are very concerned about cardiovascular/heart disease, cancer and lack of energy.

Ms. Katz said the industry is responding to the need for a focus on health and wellness and noted there isn’t a company she deals with that isn’t taking the trend seriously. She noted how consumers are building minimum standards into their portfolios and every product line.

"There truly is a desire to know what the consumer wants and how to understand them better and to make them respond," Ms. Katz said.

All types of consumers

The Nielsen Co., New York, noted that among very engaged health and wellness consumers, there are two different types of households: program partners and health idealists. Program partners are actively involved in diet programs and use supplements and daily exercise to remain healthy. Health idealists are constantly engaged in diet programs, including exercise regimens, and are concerned about regular intake of organic products. Overall, this "very engaged" segment makes up 23% of consumers.

Among those moderately engaged in health and wellness, Nielsen said there are three types of households representing 47% of consumers. These include those in maintenance mode, or households who have normal diets that are neither healthy nor unhealthy and watch portion sizes; dieting do it ‘yourselfers,’ or households who regulate their eating by designing their own diet mainly due to budget restraints; and single selfstarters, or those concerned with eating the right foods as well as exercising consistently.

The less engaged segment of consumers represents 30% of the market and is driven by those with the attitude of "I am who I am" and those who could be defined as "young and reckless." The "I am who I am" household segment describes those who don’t participate in weight loss programs and do not include exercise as a part of their weekly schedule, and the young and reckless household exercises occasionally but is not driven to eat healthy.

In the future, The Hartman Group noted the definitions of health and wellness might change.

"Just as health has become a necessary or required condition for wellness, wellness may become the necessary condition for fulfillment," The Hartman Group said. "Soon the term ‘health’ may no longer resonate with consumers because it may become an implication of wellness. Eventually the term ‘wellness’ may also become irrelevant as it will be implied when consumers seek fulfillment from quality experiences. We anticipate then, that in their quest for something beyond wellness, consumers may become driven by ‘the good life.’"

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, June 24, 2008, starting on Page 66. Click
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