Closer understanding of the’health-and-wellness’ consumer

Globally, the food and beverage industry will look to expand healthier product offerings in the years to come. A new report by the Hartman Group, outlines that the wellness consumer is a complex concept ie there is no single “type” of wellness consumer. But this is a good thing, it surmises, because it means the potential market is far less limited.

IT SEEMS BUZZ IS BUILDING ACROSS THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY around expansion of healthier product offerings in the coming years. For companies intent on ramping up their “better for you” product portfolios, we find that far too many manufacturers, marketers, brand managers, and retailers are often too preoccupied with identifying their target “health and wellness consumer.”

The good news we have to report is that there is no single “type” of wellness consumers. This is a good thing because it means the potential market is far less limited.

Instead of a microscopic view on consumers, we’d suggest that the pathway to unlocking potential health and wellness market opportunities lies in taking a broad view into the larger “world of wellness” to learn how to better serve consumers from the Core to the Periphery of their respective product worlds.

Consumers’ orientation toward health and wellness manifests itself in worlds of activity. How that orientation plays out depends upon the arena of activity that a person is involved in…and the intensity of involvement within that world.

Remember back in the 1990’s how alternative medicine, Dr Weil and natural and organic brands exploded into the mainstream, all signalling a heightened cultural fascination with health and wellness lifestyles?

At the time, and moving into the early 2000’s, the Hartman Group developed our proprietary “World Model” that delineates attitudes, behaviours, products and services through which a consumer might move as they become increasingly involved with wellness lifestyles.

In the mid-2000’s it was relatively easy to say that consumers at the “Core” of health and wellness (typified by fully incorporating spiritual as well as physical and emotional behaviours into their lives) were fairly distinct from consumers in the Periphery. From a literal perspective, the two types of consumers were unlikely to meet up in certain settings, such as an aromatherapy clinic (Core) or a GNC store (Periphery).

Today, findings from our new Health + Wellness Deep Dive report document that Periphery wellness consumers’ articulation of wellness is becoming more sophisticated and reflective of traditionally Core notions of wellness. Although their actual participation in health and wellness lifestyles is not nearly as intense, the fact that the Periphery is coming to possess a more encompassing view of wellness today is evidence of cultural diffusion as Core concepts of health and wellness trickle steadily into the mainstream.

Overall, Hartman Group research continues to show that consumer interest in pursuing healthier lifestyles and a higher quality of wellbeing is on the increase: As documented in our report, consumers increasingly understand wellness to be a “positive” proposition rather than a “perfunctory” one.

Thus, observed as a powerful on-going trend, we are witnessing a cultural shift from “health” toward “quality of life.” We find that consumers are increasingly thinking and talking about wellness in terms of “quality of life” where non-physical notions of well-being (mental, emotional, and spiritual) are just as important as physical well-being.

We believe our World Model — which offers an empirically accurate account of consumer behaviour grounded in the reality and context of everyday life — is ideally suited to a contemporary understanding of health and wellness consumers because it allows us to frame consumption behaviour in meaningful contexts.

Briefly, the World Model suggests that within each world there is a set of principles (what we term dimensions of consumption) that allow consumers to make meaningful distinctions and choices. These internal dynamics, or dimensions of consumption, are the basis from which consumers frame their understandings and meaning.

Along with concepts linking to quality, other dimensions of consumption drive the values that inform consumer behaviour in the World of Wellness and include Price, Convenience, Brand, Experience, Expert Opinion, Fun/Enjoyment, Knowledge, Authenticity, and Sustainability.

The influence of certain dimensions of consumption on consumer behaviour duepends on where they are situated in the world of health and wellness. Periphery consumers (those least involved in health and wellness lifestyles), for example, are far more likely to be Price sensitive and Convenience focused, while Core health and wellness consumers (those most intensely involved in wellness lifestyles) are more likely to consider Sustainability and Authenticity in purchase decisions. See graph below.

Wellness Consumer Graphic

While diverse consumers are on the lookout for companies, brands, products and services that can help them fulfill their health and wellness aspirations and goals, it is important that marketers understand the influence of certain dimensions of consumption on consumer behaviour and how such values influence perceptions, purchase and use of health and wellness brands and services.

As an example, Mid-level health and wellness consumers, who represent a great opportunity for diverse marketers — making up 62% of the population — are focused on dimensions relating to Experience, Expert Opinion, and Fun and Enjoyment. As such, Mid-level consumers are increasing personal Knowledge through mainstream information sources, experimenting with diverse health and wellness products, services and brands, and seeking balance between fun and discipline. To maintain relevance and develop opportunities with today’s Mid-level consumers, brands should reflect pragmatic sensibilities (reflective of Mid-level dimensions) yet offer Core aspirations and quality distinctions.

Companies looking to expand their healthier products and services portfolio should look to the dimensions of consumption within the World of Wellness as the gateway to unlocking potential market opportunities.

With all consumers participating in health and wellness lifestyles, we see great opportunity ahead for manufacturers, retailers and food service providers to strengthen health and wellness halos and drive sales growth by effectively executing programs and tailoring messages that relate key health and wellness dimensions of consumption to the type of health and wellness consumer their brand speaks to.

Whereas formerly we would have said that these opportunities rested soundly with a focus on the Mid-level consumer, with the diffusion of wellness into the very outer edges of the mainstream, we now see even broader opportunities to market to health and wellness consumers.

Source: The Hartman Group: for more on its Health + Wellness Deep Dive 2011 report, click here