If you attended the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Summit in Washington in March, you would’ve found one thousand food and beverage executives and health crusaders in suits doing synchronized kick-boxing calisthenics. It was an awkward site to behold, but also a sign tensions are thawing between two groups who are often at odds.
The First Lady Michelle Obama has modeled in headlines and households what Americans must do to get healthier as part of her Let’s Move! initiative. But it is at PHA where the message becomes matter.
Under Obama’s stewardship, PHA has become the premiere forum for public health experts to stand alongside private sector corporations, including Del Monte, Dannon, and Nestlé. As a result, industry rhetoric is increasingly becoming action.
For product companies, PHA is becoming a launch pad. More of them are flocking here to announce commitments to consumer wellbeing, and they receive real-time feedback. What does that mean for the consumer? Compromises between the two camps are producing subtle, but important changes in the foods we eat and sophisticated approaches to “market” health to everyone.
Here’s a look at trends consumers will see, hear and taste in the year ahead.
Be stealth about health
We know Americans have a weight problem. So how do we fix it? “Fool them” is the answer from some in the public health and marketing community. Fool is perhaps a strong word, but you get the underlying premise. Groups ranging from colleges to corporate food engineers are spending countless hours, and dollars, making subtle tweaks to work routines, recipes and just about anything you can think of. The object is to encourage smarter choices — without us even realizing it.
George Washington University made stairs more accessible, so the climb to class is easier than packing into a crowded elevator. Nestlé reduced fat and sodium in their popular California Pizza Kitchen line — and surprisingly found consumers like the new product better. But “stealth health” can still be a high risk proposition for marketers. Hank Cardello of the Hudson Institute warned an audience at PHA that 90% of new products fail, so toying with your brands can be risky. The same goes for launching new brands. But Cardello also found that among top companies, 70% of growth is from “better for you” options. Stealth health is here to stay.
Put the “happy” In health
Your kids don’t want to eat their greens? Shocker. But don’t worry, marketers and nutrition experts are on the case because, clearly, reason alone doesn’t move us to be a nation of Brussels sprout and asparagus eaters. Brands are using humor, pop culture and untraditional media to build buzz and uptake for their leaner options. From Big Bird to NBA players, marketers are pulling beloved cultural icons and pastimes into play. Cookie Monster is now singing about “sometimes foods and anytime foods.” (Spoiler alert: cookies are in the “sometimes” category.) Birds Eye is teaming up with Disney on a variety of projects. Sony is seeking innovative ways to include messages about balanced eating in films aimed at children.
Bust health barriers
Many have tried and are succeeding at commercializing health. Witness the explosion of customizable workout gear, expensive spin classes and artisanal “food halls.” The trick is keeping consumers engaged, which may require lowering the cost of entry. One pilot program, the Mississippi Roadmap for Health, is getting overweight women to the gym by charging a one-time $5 fee and no monthly retainers. This is possible thanks to grants from the Kellogg Foundation. The result? Women who once felt that workouts were a luxury are getting in the groove. Fortune 500 companies are partnering with communities to take innovative grass root approaches, using their marketing prowess to boost the allure of healthy lifestyles. In the future, lessons at the local level will yield culturally relevant education to motivate behavior change.
Through the clever collusion of unlikely friends in health advocacy and industry, we may be getting healthier without even knowing it. Whether we’re tricked into it or turned on by the cool factor, health is here to stay.
As senior brand strategists for Allidura Consumer, Meg Alexander (@meginnyc) and Clarice Jacobson specialize in providing health and wellness counsel to the world’s largest food and beverage companies, including The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé and Mondelez International. Follow them at @allidura and at the All’s Well blog, http://allswell.allidura.com.