Ingredient knowledge is power: educating consumers about health ingredients will significantly improve awareness and the bottom line.
White today's consumers pay more attention to the nutritional details of the foods and beverages they are consuming, many are unfamiliar with the health benefits of the popular functional ingredients contained within. Figure 1 illustrates the lack of knowledge among the general population with regard to the health benefits of select ingredients. Approximately three in four consumers do not know what health benefits are associated with plant sterols or DHA. And even more commonly known health ingredients, such as glucosamine and omega 3s, have only about a 50% association rate with any health benefit.
Figure 1 THE INGREDIENT-HEALTH-BENEFIT DISCONNECT Percent of General Population Who Do Not Know of Any Health Benefit Associated With any of the Following Plant sterols 77% DHA 73% Hoodia 71% Probiotics 64% Glucosamine 50% Omega-3s 43% Source: NMI
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As aging populations grow and interest among younger consumers to prevent health problems earlier in their life increase, a more concerted attempt by marketers to communicate and educate these health benefits becomes imperative.
The leading health concern among consumers continues to be heat disease. In the U.S., more than 80 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to he American Heart Association. Further, concerns about preventing heart disease is very high, as four out of five adults indicate they are concerned a lot/a little about preventing heart problems (heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure). Several emerging ingredients have been shown to benefit heart health, such as plant sterols, beta-glucans and omega 3 fatty acids, but consumer awareness is lacking. Among the general population, however, only about 5% indicate they associate plant sterols with heart health. That number climbs to 15% for soy, 35% for oats and 42% for omega 3s. Certainly, the need exists to educate consumers about the heart consumers about the heart benefits of emerging bioactive ingredients. Usage should follow, as three-fourths of U.S. adults are currently using heart healthy foods and/or beverages.
Another major health concern among consumers is weight management. One-half of the general population is currently managing/treating their weight. Based on U.S. Census of about 223 million U.S. adults, this translates to nearly 110 U.S. adults currently managing/treating their weight. One representative ingredient, hoodia, is earning attention among the consumer population; however, it also shows low association with a weight-loss benefit. In fact, more than two of three consumers do not know what specific benefits are associated with hoodia, and only one in five associates weight management with the ingredient.
Another emerging ingredient, probiotics, has market growth paralleling the increase in consumer awareness over the past six years. Between 2006 and 2007 alone, consumer awareness of probiotics grew 56% (see Figure 2).
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Overall knowledge of the benefits of probiotics is low--most consumers don't even know what these beneficial bacteria can do to improve health. Clinical substantiation suggests that probiotics may help in immune support, heart health and cancer prevention. But mainstream consumers are not getting the message about these health benefits--only 15% of the population associates probiotics with immune support; 12% associates it with digestive/colon health; and 9% associates this category with cancer prevention.
The uncertainty of what benefits probiotics provide is driven by older and younger demographics, as Matures and Generation Y are less likely to know the associated health benefits when compared to Generation X. Interestingly, 20% of consumers consider it important for their grocery store to have foods enriched with probiotics (up from 17% in 2006). But marketing barriers exist probiotics, as consumer association with eating "bacteria" is unappetizing, and appealing product formats are just starting to emerge.
A health ingredient that recently started making a comeback is vitamin D. The traditional function of this vitamin is to assist in the absorption of calcium, to form and maintain strong bones. Now, however, research is showing that vitamin D may protect against such health conditions as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers. According to NMI's 2008 Healthy Aging Boomer Database, only about one-half of the general population associates bone health with vitamin D; only 14% associates it with heart health; and 10% associates it with cancer prevention. Education of the various benefits of vitamin D needs to be more heavily promoted, and with the number of Baby Boomers approaching retirement, there is no time like the present. Other opportunities exist among individuals with limited sun exposure, such as children who may be participating in more indoor activities as compared to 20 years ago, and African-Americans who are more likely to produce less vitamin D due to pigmentation. There also seems to be an opportunity to expand vitamin D into more foods and beverages.
Clearly, there is a disconnect among consumers about the benefits of certain bioactive ingredients, which is why consumer education is a must if marketers want to capitalize on opportunities in this market.
Older consumers are becoming major drivers in the health and wellness market, as they are showing a strong concern and desire to improve and take control of their personal health, especially with the rising costs of healthcare. Younger generations are also proving to be lucrative targets.
Finally, supporting claims with clinical substantiation is crucial when marketing functional foods and beverages, because almost half of the U.S. population agrees completely/somewhat that proven clinical research has considerable impact on the believability of a food or beverage health claim. Matures are more likely than Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y to agree with the impact of clinical research.
Note: Data is from Natural Marketing Institute's 2007 Health and Wellness Trends Survey, unless otherwise noted.
Greg Stephens is vice president of strategic consulting with The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), Harleysville, PA. His background includes 25 years of specialized expertise in the nutritional and pharmaceutical industries. Most recently he was vice president of Nurture, Inc. Prior experience also includes a progressive series of management positions with the Ross Products Division of Abbott Laboratories, including development of global nutrition strategies for disease-specific growth platforms and business development for Ross' medical foods portfolio, including such products as Ensure and Glucerna. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gregory Stephens, RD