Which aspects of health and wellbeing to pursue in food production?

The terms ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ can hold different meanings in people’s lives. In this blog, I break down what they mean on a practical level, helping to explain their relevance to your consumers, and ultimately how to leverage these issues for success in your food production business.

When talking about health and wellbeing, we can generally split them up into two different yet overlapping themes;

  • generic health = generally, being free from physical symptoms
  • holistic wellbeing = the general feel-good effects of ethical and emotional wellbeing

Prevention of illnesses with food is an active choice

From a food choice point-of-view, generic health is either preventative or reactive. Preventative by choosing or avoiding certain foods and nutrients to either ward off or reduce the risk of developing certain unwanted health conditions. Reactive drivers on general health usually arise either from a specific diagnosis or on a perceived self-diagnosis, which can just be as just convincing.

This creates a vastly different consumer mindset when it comes to choosing what foods to consume: the active optimism of prevention vs. being forced to use diet or food as a medicine.

A prime example is the issue of lactose intolerance, where being forced to avoid dairy due to an intolerance to lactose could create the perception of sacrifice among some. However, with modern lactose free technologies as pioneered by Valio, lactose free no longer means a reduction in quality and definitely doesn't mean a sacrifice.

People with gut problems look for individual solutions for individual symptoms

A rising sub-theme in generic health is that of gut health. The gut and symptoms of gut illnesses are still quite a grey area in medicine. When consumers cannot get answers or solutions to illnesses and symptoms of the gut, they search for information from non-traditional or non-medical sources.

This has in part led to the growth of certain avoidance diets, for example avoiding gluten or avoiding lactose or dairy. The link between the food and the symptom is not always clear, but often some general feeling of relief can be found by pursuing a certain avoidance diet.

Gut health and avoidance diets are a clear opportunity for the food industry to play an active role in providing solutions to help with both specific and nonspecific symptoms, which are naturally very uncomfortable and emotional for people.

Watch the webinar! Dr. Kevin Deegan reveals what nutritional goodies and baddies are top-of-mind for many consumers.

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Holistic wellbeing takes on a higher level of understanding of good health

Holistic approaches to health and wellness often transcend concrete and physical symptoms or their prevention. In practice, it might mean that consumers make conscious decisions to choose certain brands or products based on the feeling of being part of a movement or contributing to a greater good. They might want to support local food producers or avoid certain packing materials. In such cases, the link to health and wellness, though not direct or sometimes even logical, often exists, even if it is more complex.

While decisions surrounding generic health tend to be more rational-based, decisions concerning holistic wellbeing are often more emotional and therefore create a greater challenge to producers of food.

The perceived naturalness of a product is not just determined by the list of ingredients. It is more and more defined by the complete production cycle, packaging and the complete consumer experience.

A perfect example is the perceived connection between natural and healthy. There is an ever-increasing belief amongst some consumers that processed equates to unnatural. While those of us in the food industry have a very clear understanding on the importance of the need for certain types of processing, such rational reasoning unfortunately does not always influence on the perception amongst consumers.

However, this can also be an opportunity for us where we can champion the positive aspects of our food products, increase awareness and education about why certain processes are used, and reduce the taboo and misunderstanding about processing.

Consumer understanding helps you make the most of the health and wellbeing trend

It is no easy task to decide which of the health and wellness trends is the most relevant to your business and success. The best place to start is how consumers understand your products and brands. It is key to understand what the consumer needs, desires and usage experiences are, in order to best design your offering to resonate and delight.

This could mean, for example, getting your hands dirty and finding out what’s going on on the ground level. Supermarket safaris, visiting homes of consumers or going through a normal shopping trip with consumers can all help to get a grasp on how consumers experience your products. Also, the online experience of making decisions and purchasing food is of ever-increasing importance.

The more effort you put into getting to know your consumers, the easier it is to connect with them and to offer them what they’re looking for.