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How can brands help consumers overcome health barriers in 2024?

Article-How can brands help consumers overcome health barriers in 2024?

© Vitafoods Europe 2024 Mike_Hughes_VFE24.png
An attitude/behaviour gap exists when it comes to consumer health goals. However, it is not industry’s responsibility to “fix” health problems but to encourage healthier practices, market analysts told an audience at Vitafoods Europe 2024.

Meanwhile, it is not the industry that needs to be convinced of a product’s benefits but “the person in store taking two seconds to decide what to buy, said Mike Hughes, head of research and insight at FMCG Gurus.

Speaking at the Vitafoods Insights Theatre in Geneva earlier this month, Hughes outlined how consumers are being less proactive towards health in general; how they are increasingly focusing on day-to-day over long-term health; and identified some of the barriers they face when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle.

Consumers remain proactive about health – but for different reasons

While consumers remain proactive around health, this is increasingly being driven by aspirations towards healthy ageing rather than concerns around immunity in the wake of Covid-19 – a shift that may make attaining their goals more difficult, said Hughes.

They are also placing greater emphasis on day-to-day wellness, including how they feel and what they see in the mirror, over long-term health goals.​

“Consumers are no longer driven by fear of severe illness,” Hughes said, highlighting FMCG Gurus research showing that the proportion of consumers looking to address their immune health “has fallen considerably” in the past year.

Meanwhile, there has been a noticeable slowdown in the proportion of consumers who feel their health has improved​, with just over one in five (21%) saying they believe this statement to be true.

Emotional wellbeing set to ‘significantly impact’ consumers in future

More than four in five (81%) of global consumers say they believe addressing their emotional health is just as important as their physical health, according to FMCG Gurus research. However, just half of consumers say they are satisfied with their emotional wellbeing overall.

“In an era of uncertainty, consumers are placing just as much focus on their emotional wellbeing as they are their physical health,” Hughes said.

Looking at which health areas consumers want to address over the next 12 months, those that stand out are mood and mental wellbeing (30%), energy (29%), digestive health (25%), and weight loss (24%), Hughes said.

“Emotional wellness is something that's going to significantly impact consumers for the considerable future,” he added. “This is something where it’s going to be back in the health priorities over the next 12 months and something that's going to also bring the barriers to establishing healthy living.”

The shift from intention to action: Consumer attitude/behaviour gaps

Consumers say they are looking to improve various aspects of their health, from exercising more and eating a healthier diet to building better sleep habits.

“Consumers are taking raising prices as an opportunity to step back and say, ‘How can I make my diet healthier?’ And that sometimes links with the psychology of budgeting: if you feel like you're doing it for another benefit or reason, as opposed to [because] you have to, it feels like you're in control,” Hughes said.

However, there is a gap between their stated aims and how they actually behave.

When evaluating the topic of holistic health, the industry must take into account these attitude/behaviour gaps, Hughes  warned, which he said will become even more apparent now that consumers are less driven by fear of illness.​

“These attitude/behaviour gaps are going to become more prominent and most consumers will have the best intentions to improve their health,” he added. “Whether they're able to stick to something long term is something that may be completely different.”

What are the barriers to making healthier choices?

FMCG Gurus asked consumers what challenges they faced when trying to lead a healthier lifestyle and found that the most pressing issue was cost.

“Irrespective of efforts to convince consumers otherwise, there’s still a belief that healthy products cost a premium price,” said Hughes. 

High levels of uncertainty mean comfort eating is another aspect that will impact food and drink markets over the next few years. Hughes highlighted a recent emotional wellness survey carried out by FMCG Gurus which asked consumers which products they turned to when feeling stressed.

“I can tell you functional food and drink wasn't on top of that list,” he said. “Instead, it was chocolate, confectionery, and alcohol.”

Time scarcity is another “major issue” for consumers, who often feel that they are too busy to monitor their micronutrient intake.

Hughes said there was a fine balance to be struck between healthiness and tastiness – and one that is not always clear in the minds of consumers.

There is still a perception that better-for-you products are less tasty – and this works in reverse, too: if products appear too much like confectionery, for example, then they will be perceived as being less healthy.

How can brands help consumers overcome these health barriers in 2024?

Making messaging around health and wellness simpler and more subtle could help overcome these barriers, Hughes suggested.​

“We need to really simplify the message... so it's not just convincing the industry but also the people who are buying the products,” he added.

Another message is that brands should focus on incremental improvement over fundamental change.

“One of the biggest problems associated with a healthy lifestyle is that it’s associated with compromise and sacrifice, and that's something that consumers don't particularly want,” Hughes said.

Timing was also key, he explained, pointing to an opportunity for brands to target moments “when consumers are more health-orientated”.

He said: “You have to target [these] categories and occasions rather than saying, actually, consumers are going to buy health [products] 100% of the time – because that's simply not the case.”

Hughes added: Brands must encourage consumers to get the basics right before they start to embrace new innovation... And the industry must recognise that the goal is to assist consumers rather than to do the work for them.”