The stresses of daily life in difficult times have contributed to a 12% drop in the past year in the number of UK consumers who feel in control of their health, according to research by The Futures Company’s Global Monitor division, seen exclusively by Marketing Week.
A growing number of consumers are struggling to cope with the demands upon them, which means they are eating more convenience foods on the run, working longer hours and finding less time to exercise, making health issues an increasing concern.
Radha Patel, associate director of The Futures Company, says the 12% drop in Britons feeling in control of their health is greater than the global average drop, which is 5%. She explains: “There is health information out there but people don’t necessarily know what to do with it.”
Having access to resources about health issues is not the same as being able to make sense of them, she warns. To better understand wellness issues, consumers are turning to the internet, with 55% of those surveyed saying they often go online to research an illness or injury.
The vast amounts of information online can bewilder consumers, says Patel, who predicts that “personalised health” will become a big trend in future. The research shows that 60% of people would like to be able to monitor their health more effectively.
“I think the word ’effective’ is the key here,” says Patel. “People are looking for solutions that really help them to make changes.”
Nutrition is one area where consumers can exercise a certain amount of control over their choices. Personalisation is very important in this area too, says Patel. In the US, she adds, people are following diets that claim to be based on understanding their DNA. After sending off a swab of their saliva, consumers can get a diet allegedly prescribed to their genetic code.
In the beauty wellness category, Unilever’s VO5 brand is taking personalisation a step further with its Adaptive Haircare Technology line, which claims to adapt to the individual needs of the user’s hair.
Patel says consumer desire for personalised products is a challenge as well as an opportunity for large businesses. She points to examples such as Nike+, where Nike has teamed up with Apple to integrate running equipment with iPods and iPhones, allowing users to download data about their exercise routines.
Patel says: “Technology that makes personal health become more accessible will continue to lead to change in the future.”
Yet it is not just physical health that concerns the global population. Patel notes: “Over time, people have stopped thinking about health as being something we fix or that is purely physical, to being something all-encompassing.
“Spiritual and emotional wellbeing have become increasingly significant, as well as an understanding that health is a long-term thing.”
To help understand consumers’ views of themselves and their health, the research asks how the respondents think of their body in terms of three options a car, a fortress or a tree.
Respondents who define their body as a car see it as a machine where you can fix the component parts. Those who define their body as a fortress see it as something that needs strengthening and defending against external attack. And those who liken their body to a tree view it as something they need to nurture through an ongoing holistic approach.
In the UK, 41% of respondents describe themselves as trees, 29% believe they are like cars and 30% see their bodies as fortresses. Globally, 54% of respondents see themselves as trees, 16% cars and 30% fortresses.
Nutrition is one area where consumers can exercise a certain amount of control over their choices
The research also reveals that 51% of people in the UK have made a healthy lifestyle their top priority, up from 50% in 2010 and 2009.
“There is a real spot in the middle [of wellness and health] where control, simplicity and balance come together,” says Patel. “If brands are able to tap into that and engage with consumers, they will succeed.”
US margarine brand Smart Balance is tuning in to this trend, says Patel. Its website provides consumers with multiple sources of information, ideas and tools that go beyond product descriptions. It provides healthy recipes, exercise ideas and general health tips, including how to stop smoking and reduce stress.
The website also provides many details about the brand’s product ingredients. This is another area where there is a great deal of consumer interest, with 51% of UK respondents saying they always read the label on packaging to check ingredients before buying. Up to 62% of global respondents agree.
The figures show a slight reduction from the previous year. “We are seeing a drop-off in the need to read the label because there are lots of shortcuts, such as front-of-packet information, to help people get round it,” says Patel.
Supermarket brand Waitrose says it has seen a greater interest from consumers in its food ingredients. It has recently launched a range of nutritionally balanced foods, called Waitrose LOVE Life, in response to “demand from over half of our customers to help them include a wider range of wholefood ingredients and avoid saturated fats in their diets,” according to a Waitrose spokeswoman.
But brands do not have to launch whole new ranges to meet consumer needs. Patel suggests that getting behind a behaviour change campaign can be just as powerful. She cites Nestlé’s Get Set Go Free initiative, where consumers are given the opportunity to try 25 sports activities for free.
Another marketing campaign Patel recalls as being successful in shifting consumers’ patterns of behaviour is Linda McCartney’s Meat Free Mondays.
This promotes the concept that if you have one day a week without meat, not only is it good for your body but also for the environment and your pocket.
“This type of small step behavioural change doesn’t require people to change their life significantly,” says Patel. “But it can have a fundamental impact on their lifestyle and health.”
Of course, not everyone is convinced by such gestures. More than a third of British consumers in the research believe “life’s too short to worry about what you eat and drink”. Consumers in markets such as the UK often need health-focused programmes with instant gratification and clear milestones of progress to ensure their interest, says Patel.
And despite the greater-than-ever interest in holistic wellness, British consumers are often reluctant to try new ideas from overseas. In the UK, the proportion of consumers wanting to try remedies and health products from other countries has fallen from 25% in 2008 to 18% in 2011.
“I don’t think people lack interest in these things, but they have other things to worry about at the moment,” says Patel, citing possible stress over the global economic situation, where people are concerned for their jobs and income.
Ultimately, says Patel, the research shows that “people want to invest in their health”. With 56% of UK consumers agreeing that there are more health risks in society than ever before, and 46% confused by conflicting information about how to manage their health, the brands that help consumers gain control over this area could see their bottom lines receive a boost.
The frontline: we ask marketers on the frontline whether our ’trends’ research matches their experience on the ground
Director of sales and marketing, UK health at Aviva
One of the key themes coming out of our recent Health of the Nation research is that GPs feel there needs to be a change in individuals’ expectations and beliefs that health is someone else’s responsibility. It’s good to see that three in five people taking part in this study say that they would like to be able to monitor their own health more effectively.
We have a corporate responsibility to engage and encourage our staff and customers to take more control of their own health, by promoting the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle and communicating the message that prevention is better than cure.
We have already introduced a number of initiatives to help us do this. MyHealthCounts allows people to understand how healthy they are compared with other people of a similar demographic. It offers them advice to help them improve their lifestyle.
We reward customers who improve their health status with a discount of up to 15% off their renewal premium. We have also introduced online and offline customer magazines that are designed to help educate our customers and offer practical advice about leading a healthy lifestyle.
Brand manager for health, Sainsbury’s
I am not surprised by the findings of the research. Customers are faced with a barrage of information surrounding healthy eating and have to juggle so many considerations, such as health, budget and planning for meal occasions. On a daily basis, that can be a struggle.
We recognise that we have a key role to play in making healthier choices easier for customers. That’s why we have multiple traffic light labels on more than 8,000 of our own-label lines, making nutritional information simple.
Our recent ’Feed your Family for a Fiver’ initiative combined a nutritionally balanced diet with recipe ideas at a value price-point. It received a great response from our customers, who found it helpful. We continue to support the government initiative of five-a-day fruit and vegetable messaging by locating produce at the front of our store so it is easy for customers to find. We run regular promotions across a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
Our Active Kids scheme is in its seventh year and encourages young people to balance the food they eat with the exercise they take. We are on a mission to make the healthiest choices become the easiest by providing healthy food at affordable prices.
Director of Healthy By Nature, maker of Perfect Sweet
The most surprising statistic is that more than a third of people agree with the statement “life’s too short to worry about what you eat and drink”. In reality, life is too short if you don’t worry about what you eat and drink. Eating and drinking healthily needs to be seen as easy, tasty and fun and I think as an industry we haven’t quite got this message right yet.
Our biggest challenge is that we need to educate consumers about our brand’s benefits and it is all too easy to become preachy and fall into the “telling off” camp. We have worked hard on new branding, for an autumn launch, that focuses on informing consumers in an easy and effective manner without implying any negative connotations if they don’t use the products.
We have started using symbols instead of words to imply benefits and have done away with things like graphs on the website, which complicate things and confuse consumers. We are also trying to use more ’friendly’ figures to talk about the brand celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has got across the message about healthy eating far more effectively than doctors and politicians.
International marketing director of Body in Balance TV
I agree with the research that consumers globally are taking a more sophisticated approach to looking after their health. Concern about a healthy lifestyle is the new rock’n’roll.
Body in Balance saw a niche in the market when it launched five years ago. We are trying to do with yoga, wellness, health and fitness what MTV did with music. We make it available to people in an easy-to-use format.
We are broadcasting in 18 territories and expanding steadily. There is a huge market out there for individuals and companies looking into health and wellbeing.
Our brand, which incorporates lifestyle products and clothes, aims to represent a whole approach to life. We started as a yoga channel, which was then a niche market. Now this has developed and we are moving into dance.
As shown in the research, consumers need easy access to health. In our case, people want to work out and have fun at the same time.
With the advent of on-demand and interactive television, people are able to monitor their own health more effectively. They can not only interact but measure their fitness and health. With set-top boxes, technologies that allow you to measure your calorie consumption and your heart rate will be available within the next 18 months.