Weight management in transition

by Allison Sebolt
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Consumer perception of weight management is shifting as consumers have become less concerned about the number that appears when they stand on a scale and more concerned about how they feel overall.

“There are certain times when consumers definitely are looking to lose weight, but I think on the whole we are looking to eat better for the long term,” said Melissa Abbott, trend and culinary insight manager with The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. “It’s less about quick-fixes, and I think the idea of diet products to consumers is becoming less and less attractive. It’s not that (consumers) don’t want diet products; it’s that they want to feel they are eating good food.”

“Consumers are catching on to the idea that in order to be a healthy person, it’s not just about being low in weight,” Ms. Abbott said.

She pointed to Glendale, Calif.-based Nestle USA’s Lean Cuisine brand as one of the most successful weight management products on the market, noting that many consumers who are very dedicated to fresh foods often still have Lean Cuisine products in their freezer.

In January, Lean Cuisine introduced several new products, including a spinach, artichoke and chicken Panini as well as three new extensions to its Spa Cuisine line. The new Spa Cuisine products feature unique flavor profiles such as roasted honey chicken, Thai style noodles with chicken and apple cranberry chicken, and connect well to the brand’s marketing tag line to “Keep life delicious.”

Ms. Abbott said there is also a trend toward products that are marketed by how they make a consumer feel, whether that be relaxed, energized, calmed or rejuvenated. She noted that VitaminWater products, a Coca-Cola Co. brand, are marketed in this way. Individual VitaminWater products come in several varieties, including Revive, Spark, Energy, Focus and Defense.

Carlos Veraza, vice-president and general manager of frozen foods for ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, said consumers are making the connection between eating right and looking and feeling their best. But he said consumers don’t want to give up the foods and recipes they enjoy. He said the Healthy Choice brand is focused on helping consumers eat healthy by providing food with positive health benefits and delivering meals with essential nutrients.

“We are not giving consumers ‘diet food,’ but rather delicious food — packed with protein, fiber, whole grains and antioxidants with no preservatives — that is intended to be a part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle,” Mr. Veraza said.

In January of this year, ConAgra introduced 11 new Healthy Choice frozen entree options, including Mediterranean inspired Cafe Steamers, Healthy Choice All Natural Entrees such as Tortellini Primavera Parmesan, and Healthy Choice Select Entrees such as Pineapple Chicken.

“Consumers are divided — some are happy at the weight they are at and have no intention of losing weight regardless of media or medical opinion,” said Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, Inc., a market research firm. “They see themselves as heavy but healthy. For those that do want to reduce weight, diets are out, eating healthy is in. Losing 30 lbs in 30 days is out. Food will be seen as a prevention tool, not the enemy.”

Ms. Badaracco said any weight management product must be seen as three dimensional and holistic, and supplements will override beverages as they have no calories.

According to the Global New Products Database from Mintel International, Chicago, there were 398 products introduced in 2009 with weight control claims. That was up from 348 in 2008 and 248 in 2007. According to Mintel, some recently introduced products with weight control claims include Caramel Truffle Ice Cream Bars from Skinny Cow, a Cocoa Chip Snack Bar from Full Bar, and an Acai Berry Smoothie from Garden Greens.

In its report “Attitudes toward food: weight and diet,” Mintel said 86% of respondents said healthy eating is very or somewhat important to them. However, less than 7 in 10 respondents said their diet is very or somewhat healthy. With the self-reported healthfulness of diets being considerably lower than the perceived importance of healthy eating, better-for-you packaged foods and beverages have an opportunity to grow. Overall, Mintel said 54% of Americans are watching their diet with the most common reasons for being diet-conscious being the desire to lose weight followed by the desire to reduce cholesterol and fat as well as maintain a healthy weight.

“It’s not just weight loss anymore,” Ms. Abbott said. “It’s more about beauty from the inside out.”

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