By Carol Wong-Li
Men more likely to be overweight yet have less intent toward eating healthy regularly
Data from Statistics Canada shows that obesity is a growing problem in Canada, with men being more likely to be overweight than women. Having said this, however, results from this report show that women are much more likely to be engaging healthy eating behaviours as well as eating healthily on a more consistent basis than men. Likely contributing to their lesser engagement with healthy eating is that they lack a solid foundation in understanding which foods are healthy and which are not. The lack of awareness of healthy options may anchor them more firmly in the perception that foods labelled as healthy are less tasty than those that are not. Ideally, brands and organizations need to work together to encourage adoption of healthy eating behaviours before they get to this point.
Guilt is eating away at women
Women are actively engaging in healthy eating behaviours such as including plenty of vegetables in their day-to-day meals and monitoring their sugar/salt/carb intake, etc. While being motivated and committed to eating well is positively contributing to their lesser likelihood to be overweight, women aged 18-54 and mothers are also more likely to be driven to eat well by guilt.
The association of food with guilt is a slippery slope as equating foods with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can make the person themselves feel that they are ‘good’ or bad’. This has the potential to tax a woman’s self-esteem. Women need to be reminded that a healthy lifestyle should be one that balances limiting/monitoring behaviours with rewards. This is something that women do anyway (but likely feel guilty for), as indicated by their belief in not needing to diet if they eat healthy foods regularly and a penchant to allow themselves the occasional cheat day. Emphasizing the positives (i.e. not cutting out the ‘bad’ but instead, placing greater focus on addition of nutritious foods) may help in this regard.
Trust in health claims on food/beverage packaging is soft
With the bulk of Canadians targeting to eat healthy all or most of the time (76%), it is not surprising that consumers exhibit high levels of interest in foods/beverages with health claims on the packaging (averaging approximately 86% for all claims). Given the high levels of interest, one would expect that consumers would also be motivated to pay more for products with such claims.
However, there is a fairly large disconnect between the two; only one in four (27%) are actually motivated to do so. While higher food cost is undoubtedly a factor, a key issue is that consumers lack trust in manufacturers and their labels – seeing them as a way for companies to charge more. Brands and companies would do well to proactively address this issue by creatively findings ways to provide shoppers with greater access to information that supports the validity of their claims. Greater transparency into the manufacturing process or background on the sources of ingredients may also help to instil a greater sense of trust amongst consumers.
Connecting the dots for consumers: knowledge is power for them, profits for brands
The intent is there: some 76% of Canadians aim to eat healthy all or some of the time. Moreover, consumers already believe in the benefits of eating well to their physical and emotional wellness. This means that food/beverage brands and grocery retailers alike are well positioned to connect with consumers as they are motivated and, for the most part, keen to take action. Where consumers may be falling off is in their understanding of how the two (healthy eating and key benefits) actually connect to each other; the problem may be a matter of information. Firstly, consumers may be working off of a weak foundation as some 40% of Canadians find it hard to determine which foods are healthy and which are not. Secondly, those who have some knowledge are likely missing the pieces that help them link key ingredients or qualities of food to tangible benefits. Regular marketing efforts and online resources that provide information of how specific ingredients work to address specific needs should work well to gain the attention and loyalty of consumers as doing so will also help address the issue of labelling trust discussed above. In particular, this strategy should work well to engage the younger consumer base of 18-34s as they are the most likely to be already online looking to learn about the best foods for needs such as improving energy, reducing acid reflux and improving skin.
Fuelling an on-the-go lifestyle
Lifestyle proves to be a barrier for adopting healthier eating habits among 18-34s as well as parents (52% of 18-34s and 44% of parents vs 35% overall). For younger consumers, a higher frequency of social outings means making choices on the go. As they are likely to be less affluent than older consumers, eating out (which does not necessarily translate into healthier options) may be less accessible. This suggests opportunities for snack manufacturers to target this audience – especially those that offer healthy, tasty options at lower price points.
For parents, meal kits designed for families may be a relatively untapped opportunity. Similar to home meal replacement (HMR ) offerings from grocery stores, such products work to minimize the preparation needed to cook meals – washing and chopping vegetables, for example. However, meal kits also have the additional advantages of saving parents from the pre-planning work of cooking (including a trip to the grocery store) as well as allowing them to make a meal from scratch for their families. This is not to detract from the convenience offerings of HMR, as these are also well positioned to attract parents.
What it means
Canadians proactively take care of their health and have an understanding that food intake impacts one’s physical and emotional health. Healthy living (including eating well) is a balancing act, where focus is not just on cutting back but also on being able to enjoy occasional indulgences. However, inconsistent information about which foods are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’ is leaving consumers confused. While this opens up opportunities for brands to play a guiding role, manufacturers need to be aware that consumers today expect proof of how ingredients lead to tangible benefits as trust in health claims/labels wanes.
is Senior Analyst, Lifestyles and Leisure