Redefining health and wellness (again)

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — In February 2005, many leaders of the food and beverage industry’s largest publicly-traded companies ventured to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the annual Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference and there was one topic that dominated all of the presentations made that week — health and wellness. Obesity’s effect on public health was cresting and many of the executives were eager to share how both established and new products in their company’s product portfolio would contribute to improving consumer health.

Executives from Campbell Soup emphasized the favorable carbohydrate, fat and calorie profile of its condensed soups and announced the launch of a reduced sodium version of V8. For General Mills, the focus was on the whole grain content of its Big G brand cereals and the launch of Yoplait Healthy Heart, a yogurt variety containing plant sterols.

A few months later, at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans, it became clear health and wellness as defined by the enhancement or fortification of products with such ingredients as fiber, omega-3s, plant sterols, probiotics and many more ingredients had become a leading product development trend.

In the ensuing years research supported the positive effects of many ingredients on improving health and wellness. Activity around the development of functional foods increased and the debate around food as medicine grew louder.

Jump ahead to the present and the redefinition of health and wellness is jarring; it is defined as simplicity and foods free-from specific ingredients. Many claims are focused on the vague, undefined benefits of organic or non-bioengineered. Such nouveau ingredients as quinoa, kale and wheatgrass are presented as and subsequently perceived as healthier than ingredients supported by research that show they have proven positive effects on digestive health, heart health or even cognition.

With the context of product development trends during the past decade in mind one must look ahead pragmatically. As they always do, consumer preferences are going to evolve. There is currently a lot of noise around the concepts of organic, non-bioengineered and the rejection of ingredients perceived as chemicals, but one must reasonably ask how consumers will react when the noise lessens and people start to wonder why they are paying a premium for a product that is essentially no different than its non-organic, bioengineered, additive containing counterpart?

It would be arrogant and foolhardy to predict what the next iteration of health and wellness will be. All one may hope is the next definition is grounded more in reality rather than aspiration.

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