Finding discipline in weight management

by Allison Gibeson
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With rising levels of obesity, consumers are willing to try just about anything to help them lose weight. This keen and enduring interest together with remarkably little brand loyalty to weight management products add up to a market that is large but fragmented as consumers search for an easy and effective way to shed pounds. Yet experts agree new innovations and more effective products are not necessarily what is needed most in the market. Instead, better education for consumers in how to change their behavior may be most essential.

“Most of your consumers are missing the mark,” said Loren Ward, director of R.&.D. at Glanbia Nutritionals, which has a U.S. office in Fitchburg, Wis. “They don’t realize that without that magic bullet, which they keep searching for … there are some really good programs out there. There are good ways to lose weight, but it does take some willpower and self-discipline.”

Mr. Ward said consumers need to realize they will never find the effortless way to lose weight. He said only when an individual manages his or her diet will there be benefit to looking at different foods and food ingredients to funnel weight loss into body fat, retain lean muscle and maintain bone density.

Mr. Ward said Glanbia has Prolibra, a whey-derived ingred-ient that helps consumers lose more body fat than lean muscle during weight loss. He said typically people lose an even amount of body fat and lean muscle when they lose weight, but Prolibra helps change that ratio to losing 70% to 80% body fat and only 20% to 30% lean muscle during weight loss. The ingredient also helps support bone health as bone density is often sacrificed during weight loss.

“The biggest thing that is needed right now is more consumer education than inno-vation on the manufacturing side and development side,” Mr. Ward said.

Monica Feldman, head of consumer health research at Euromonitor, agreed there is a behavioral aspect to weight management that is not being addressed.

“The problem we have with weight management products is having people adhere to the diet or to the program,” Ms. Feldman said. “Yes, Slim-Fast can help you lose weight, but in order to do that you need to be hooked to that while you have other types of dietary intervention … How can people justify changing their behavior if they cannot see what they are doing wrong?”

Yet Mr. Ward said if consumers are willing to manage their energy intake and outtake, some areas of development still may be tapped.

“On the research side of things, I think there is a lot that can still be learned on how individuals’ bodies send different signals of satiety, hunger … and how the body uses different sources of food as energy and which components have the biggest impact on body fat or muscle,” Mr. Ward said.

Achieving moderation

Despite all the products on the market, Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director with Datamonitor, said the top consumer approach toward weight management revolves around portion control and changing the amount of food they eat.

“It’s not necessarily seeking out diet-type products or products that are sweetened with stevia or other types of non-calorie sweeteners, it’s simply trying to adjust the amount of food being eaten,” Mr. Vierhile said.

He said 55% of American consumers are trying to lose weight and 22% are trying to maintain their current weight. Yet at the same time, he said only 28% of consumers said they follow a specific diet plan all or most of the time versus just 55% who said they are eating smaller portions all or most of the time.

“It’s more of an ad hoc approach, and that works because it’s situational,” Mr. Vierhile said.

He said consumers get bored with diet plans, don’t see results quick enough and don’t stick with the plans. He added there is a low level of trust with the weight loss industry, and there is skepticism of what is being claimed. Yet consumers still are interested in products that promise weight loss with relatively little effort, such as Sensa. Other products such as Hoodia promise to help suppress appetite and aid in weight loss, but Mr. Vierhile said there isn’t always sufficient science to back the products up.

Yet Mr. Vierhile noted the FullBar Fit products, Glucerna Hunger Smart and Slim Shot products as products offering interesting benefits. In terms of more portion or calorie-control products, he noted zero calorie products are often popular, and there is more interest in slider-type products. He also said Nestle Skinny Cow products are examples of responsible treats.

“That’s another trend we’re seeing — companies moving away from products that address dieting … the word ‘diet’ seems to be something that is slipping away,” Mr. Vierhile said.

Products offered by Weight Watchers emphasize portion control and moderation.

“More than anything else, we continue to see a stronger emphasis on maintaining balance,” said John Rzeszut, senior brand manager for Dawn Foods, which produces Weight Watchers sweet baked goods. “Deprivation or elimination of certain foods or food groups has not really gained traction as a successful, long-term weight management approach for most people. Instead, we see that weight management plans that allow for small indulgences and simple substitutions and encourage naturally wholesome and filling foods such as fruits and vegetables tend to have the most longevity.”

Mr. Vierhile said there will be opportunities for weight management products that address snacking needs as well as products that fit in a consumer’s routine and lifestyles without much change. He also noted opportunity for dairy products, fiber and protein in the market.

“The consumers are skeptical because there are so many products on the market,” Mr. Ward said. “So the ones that are being put together today need a good scientific basis so the consumer can see that difference, can feel that difference and can identify how to manage weight and lose weight.”

In the future, Mr. Vierhile said portion control and natural ingredients and formulations likely will be the direction of the market.

Market specifics

According to research from Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., Tampa, Fla., the total U.S. weight loss market had sales of $60.9 billion in 2010, but that reflected little growth from the previous year due to economic conditions that notably slowed growth in the market. The research firm said 80% of all dieters design their own plan or use a diet guru’s diet book, philosophy or mail-order or infomercial products. The number of dieters who use meal replacements alone is about 4.2%, or 3 million to 5 million consumers, which represents a fall in share for meal replacements from a high of 24% of dieters who used meal replacements in the early 1990s.

The top U.S. weight loss companies are Weight Watchers International, the H.J. Heinz Co. with its Weight Watchers licensed foods, NutriSystem, Jenny Craig International, Glaxo SmithKline with the Alli diet drug, Herbalife International and Slim-Fast from Unilever.

“America’s estimated 75 million dieters — about 80% of whom try to lose weight by themselves — are fickle and shift from fad to fad,” said John LaRosa, research director for Marketdata. “These shifts in dieter preference spell boom or bust for diet companies.”

Marketdata said popular diet plans now are Weight Watchers, Medifast, The 17-Day Diet, HCG Drops, the Dukan Diet and The Biggest Loser. They also predicted 2011 winners in the weight management category would be over-the-counter meal replacements; diet books and exercise DVDs; free or low-cost diet web sites; Weight Watchers International; Medifast; and multi-level company diet products such as Herbalife and Amway.

The market losers they predicted were diet food home delivery services, Jenny Craig, residential facilities, VLCD medical fasting programs, prescription diet drugs and high-end health clubs.

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