Aurore de Monclin, Managing Partner at the Healthy Marketing Team, says mental health and wellbeing has become an increasingly mainstream topic, particularly among younger consumers.
“A direct result of the lockdowns is that mental wellbeing now ranks top of consumer concerns in a global consumer survey,” she said, citing a recent study from Euromonitor International.
The Healthy Marketing Team’s own research – conducted through a partnership with Lund University in Sweden – found 70% of consumers were looking for foods that could impact their mental wellbeing but could not find options that fulfilled that need. Part of the problem is that it is extremely challenging to prove specific links between food and mental health, even as the relationship between the gut microbiome and brain health has emerged as a burgeoning area of research. What’s more, the idea of the ‘gut-brain axis’ has yet to be translated into consumer-friendly concepts.
“The challenge is that the connection between food and brain is not yet established in the consumer mind,” she told attendees at a recent Fi Connect event. “So there’s a gap between needs and what’s existing in the market.”
Connecting with consumers
In order to bridge that gap, she said it was important to understand consumer motivations for buying particular products and how those relate to mental wellness.
When it comes to healthy food choices, physical wellness is just one part of the equation. Such foods also could help improve self-esteem or reflect how someone wants to be perceived by their peers, for instance. Food has emotional links, too, to a person’s roots, memories and the comfort of tradition.
“What we have seen during the lockdown is that as people couldn’t meet with their families, they were actually cooking more family food or traditional cookie recipes from their childhood,” de Monclin said. “…The process of cooking has an impact on mental wellbeing.”
Mental wellness often is ritual-driven as well, she added.
“We are potentially moving into a new area, to look less at the food but more at the whole process, at this whole ritual we can offer to consumers that is helping with mental wellbeing.”
Less rational... more emotional
Of course, good food in itself can contribute to a good mood, and while some consumers may be looking for functional products and ingredients to boost their mental health, many others are looking for products that have that effect on a purely emotional level.
“The work that is to be done is on how to move your product from something that is quite rational to something quite emotional,” de Monclin said. “So what is the feeling that you can infer from your product?”
When it comes to answering consumer desire for happiness, rather than physical wellness alone, she said, “It’s not only about claims, but brands need to deliver on beliefs and emotional values.”
Beverage brand Recess, for example, has positioned itself as the antidote to the stresses of modern life, using the slogan “We Canned a Feeling”, referring to a feeling of being calm and collected. The product itself is a sparkling water infused with hemp and adaptogens.
Supplement brand Love Wellness is another example, with its Mood Pills intended to combat stress, anxiety and PMS, and Sleeping Beauty supplements for relaxation and better sleep.
“The strategy here is that you are what you buy when it comes to health and identity,” she said. “So you need to think about how you make people feel when they have your product in their hand.”
Finally, an increasing number of companies is looking to Asia for traditional ingredients and more holistic approaches to health and mental wellbeing, such Ayurveda and adaptogenic herbs and spices. And although many younger Asians have moved away from these traditions, they have tended to embrace modern brands that incorporate traditional ingredients.
“The trends are flowing from east to west and back to east,” said de Monclin. “…It is about blending tradition and authenticity but with a modern twist.”
This ingredient-focused approach is a more traditional way to consider innovation for mental health benefits, but connecting with consumers who are looking to improve their mood or mental wellbeing through what they consume may require a different tactic.
“We have to think of how we move from selling products to selling rituals and experience,” she said.